The Rises and Falls of Wesley Sneijder

January 11, 2013 in Serie A, Transfers by Aman Pathiara

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At the time of writing, Netherlands midfielder Wesley Sneijder is contemplating a move to Galatasaray. It’s a move that, if we’re being honest, no-one really envisaged for Sneijder, even if he has been reduced to a meagre five starts this year for Internazionale. It’s quite alarming how quickly someone’s stock can drop in football; a year and a half ago, Manchester United seemed desperate to sign Sneijder, then rated at £30m, and with wage demands of approximately £200k a week. Today, Inter have accepted a reported £8m bid for their number 10, and the terms that have been offered to him would see him receive a basic £65k a week wage, considerably less than his demands to United. Even more indicative of Sneijder’s ‘fall’ is the fact that he is reportedly stalling on talks with Galatasaray in the hope that a Premier League club will swoop in and steal him, and as of yet, none have. Even Manchester United, the team so keen to sign the Dutchman prior, and consistently on the receiving end of accusations of a lacking midfield, appear to show no interest. So what’s happened?

Sneijder Holland

I’d probably forgive Sneijder if he decided to pack up and go back to Holland, as any transfer he’s made appears to have ended on a sour note. Bought from Ajax by Real Madrid in 2007 during a period of time that I can only describe as Madrid’s “Great Dutch Experiment” which also involved Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Royston Drenthe. He made just over 50 appearances in two years before being poached by Inter Milan for 15 million Euros. Hardly a terrible fate to befall a top player; Jose Mourinho was putting together a new-look attack at the Italian giants - one that would go on to secure a historic treble the next year. His exit seemed suspicious at the time; all was clearly not well, and the surprisingly low price raised questions. Never mind, a new adventure awaits.

Success also awaited at Inter, and Sneijder’s value skyrocketed, as he formed a deadly trinity with Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito. Couple that with a superb showing at the World Cup 2010, and Sneijder could legitimately make a claim to be the best central attacking midfielder in the world. Sadly, it seems that the loss of one domino topples the entire structure, and Jose Mourinho’s departure in 2010 saw the club undergo a severe change in personnel; key players such as Eto’o, Lucio and Julio Cesar have departed since, and Sneijder has become a sort of luxury player. In the admittedly few games of Serie A football I have watched recently, Sneijder has not been anywhere near as effective as he was in 2010, and a large part of this can be attributed to Inter’s preferred formation.

Under Mourinho, Inter played formations which saw, essentially, four banks of players; that is to say, a formation such as a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-2-3-1. Inter’s preferred formation was the 4-3-1-2, with Sneijder taking the spot behind Eto’o and Milito, providing most of Inter’s assists, while also providing a real goal threat. The narrowness of this formation also catered for attacking full-backs; Maicon, most notably, was spectacular during Mourinho’s time at the San Siro. Similarly, for Holland at the World Cup, Sneijder was positioned as the central attacking threat just behind the striker in a 4-5-1/4-2-3-1, and the end result was a phenomenal run to the final, before they abandoned their principles and chose to instead focus on physically destroying the Spanish.

Now that we’ve established where Sneijder plays best, it’s understandable why he does not thrive in current Inter manager Andrea Stramaccioni’s preferred 3-4-3 set-up. Sneijder is not known for his defensive work, and for him to play as a central midfielder in the flat four, played deeper than he is used to, sees his attacking threat somewhat lessened, and his defensive abilities found lacking. Can you pay a player like that £200k a week? And so, Sneijder’s second club outside of his native Holland has come to an end with a somewhat bitter taste. Sneijder is clearly unwanted, seen as a financial burden, a luxury, on a club that is part of a league desperately trying to be on the right side of Financial Fair Play. In this sense, it would have been wise for Sneijder to have moved to Manchester United in 2011, in the midst of a string of managerial changes, tactical shifts and failure to make a mark in Europe. His wages reportedly proved to be a stumbling block, and I feel that he will be ruing that stance right now.

All of the ‘big’ clubs in the Premier League, believed to be his preferred destination, all have their own star men playing in Sneijder’s preferred position; Chelsea have Juan Mata, Manchester City have David Silva, while Arsenal have Jack Wilshere as their star man in midfield, and Tottenham play best when Mousa Dembele is on form - all younger than Sneijder. Manchester United have Wayne Rooney play there, with Shinji Kagawa signed as another option. As far as I see, while Kagawa is there, there is no need for Sneijder, unless you play him deeper. But as we’ve seen before, that would sort of negate the point.

Sneijder is a wonderfully talented player, and I feel for him, considering how his moves have always ended. At the age of 28, he still has a good few years in him at the top, and with all due respect to Galatasaray and Turkish football, he could do better than move to Turkey. I don’t see how a Premier League club could make Sneijder their main man, so if a bid does come in from one, he may be forced to accept a rotational role. All I know is that I hope a player as gifted as Sneijder has not reached a point where his best years are behind him.