For the past couple of months Wesley Sneijder seems to have been linked with just about every major club in Europe as his time with Inter Milan comes to a very public and sour end. Now it appears there is no turning back and he will be allowed to move on – but exactly what do you get if you take a gamble on the gifted yet complex Dutch playmaker?
By Rob Boulton
Bursting through the famed Ajax academy along with Rafael Van Der Vaart in 2002, Sneijder’s talents were so special he quickly developed faster than the rest of the players in the youth sides and was given his chance for the first team. Technically brilliant, Sneijder was ideal for the bright, passing game the Dutch giants are famed for – and along with close friend Van Der Vaart they were quickly heralded as the shining lights bringing success back to the Amsterdam club.
Making 23 appearances in his first season, Sneijder scored five goals and made two assists, but his general play and vision offered glimpses of what he could do if given more opportunities. In the 2003-04 season Sneijder contributed 10 goals and 11 assists, before another nine goals and 11 assists in the following term. With 12 goals and eight assists in the 2005-06 season it felt as if the now established midfield playmaker should be delivering more – and in the 2006-07 season he did exactly that.
Scoring 22 goals from midfield and chipping in with 12 assists, Sneijder had become one of Europe’s most sought after talents and was starting to live up to the hype and expectation. Without the finances to compete with Europe’s elite clubs, in the summer of 2007 Ajax decided to sell Sneijder and use the money to bring in talent to other areas of the squad. Real Madrid’s substantial offer of £27m made Sneijder the second most expensive Dutch footballer ever and the Madridistas earmarked him as the ideal man to replace the departed David Beckham.
Sneijder was handed the number 23 shirt which Beckham had worn previously, and was joined in Madrid that summer by two fellow countrymen – Arjen Robben and Royston Drenthe. On his debut Sneijder scored the winning goal in the derby with Atletico Madrid, affording him instant cult status. He followed that up with two goals the following weekend against Villarreal – and an impressive first season ended with nine goals and nine assists from 38 appearances helping Madrid retain the La Liga title.
In August 2008 Sneijder was caught by a challenge from Arsenal’s Abou Diaby in a pre-season friendly and was stretchered off with suspected cruciate ligament damage. Fortunately, scans revealed the injury wasn’t as serious as first thought and he was back playing within a few weeks. Perhaps the most significant moment of Sneijder’s career was to come next as he was handed the Number 10 jersey given up by the Manchester City-bound Robinho. Niggling injuries throughout the season limited Sneijder to just 28 games, and with a meager two goals and two assists in that time, the player grew increasingly unhappy in Madrid. He was sold to Internazionale for £15 million in 2009 in a move which kept both parties happy as Sneijder would get playing time and Madrid would free up space on the wage bill to bring in more players.
Once more Sneijder was given the number 10 shirt to identify him as the team’s main playmaker and his career in Italy started well as he was part of the team who trounced fierce rivals AC 4-0 in the Milan derby. The Dutchman remembers why the first words from Inter manager, Jose Mourinho, made the decision to move to Italy the right one: “You play tomorrow (against Milan). Contractor. From the first minute. I trust you, trust that you will win the derby” said the Special One to his new signing.
In October he scored his first Inter goal to help defeat Udinese 2-1 and in a fine first season he played 41 games, scoring eight goals and assisting 16 more. The 2009-10 season was the finest of Sneijder’s career as Inter won the treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and the Champions League. Sneijder’s return of seven goals and 11 assists doesn’t sound overly impressive, but his intelligent passing and technical ability was fundamental for the team and allowed others to benefit from his ability to suck defenders in as they tried to nullify his threat – and he did score the vital equalising goal against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, helping Inter to go on and win the game 3-1.
With Mourinho departing for Sneijder’s former club Real Madrid, both his and the team’s form suffered in the 2010-11 season with just six goals, nine assists and some generally poor form from the previously majestic Dutchman. This season has been difficult and stats of two goals and three assists don’t really tell the full story as Sneijder hasn’t been allowed to play since October after falling out with Inter chiefs over a pay dispute linked to a contract renewal. Now captaining the Dutch national side, his impressive international career has afforded him 90 caps and 24 goals – and he shone in the 2008 European Championships and at times in the 2010 World Cup.
So where and what next for a proven, top-level midfield playmaker? The English Premier League was rumoured as the most likely destination, but it now appears Galatasaray have won Sneijder’s signature. With his position in the game so hard to fill yet so crucial to how top teams now like to set up, you’d think clubs would be falling over themselves to secure him? A reported fee of £6.2m also appears to be one of the true January sale bargains. Sadly, the move to Turkey will exemplify a career which has promised plenty, but only sparsely delivered.
Would Wesley Sneijder fit in at another top European side? Why have bigger clubs than Galatasaray failed to get his signature? Have they even bothered at all? Tweet us @talkingbaws or comment below.