Oct 15, 2010

A Year in the Life of Wesley Sneijder

By Gregor Vasconcelos

Humiliated. That is possibly the only word that can explain how Dutch Maestro, Wesley Sneijder, must have felt after he was booted out of Madrid.

After spending large part of his last season at the club on the sidelines and struggling for form once he recovered, which was also due to problems in his personal life as he was going through his divorce, Sneijder was kicked out of Madrid alongside fellow countryman Arjen Robben.

Prior to these events, Sneijder was confident he would survive the summer clearance at Real. Apparently he even reportedly told his good friend Rafael van der Vaart to get ready to leave the club. In the end it was the complete opposite, Sneijder got the boot and van der Vaart got to stay in the Spanish capital.

Notice that in the previous paragraph, I mention Sneijder's confidence. That is a quality he has that has never wavered, even when he reached his lowest lows. Having been extremely confident ever since his younger days at Ajax, Sneijder has carried that all the way through his carreer and it wasn't gonna be affected by what Real Madrid did to him. If anything, it was bound to motivate the man to do even better and prove his former employers wrong. Which is exactly what happened.

The Smurf's (as hes known in his native Holland) arrival to Inter Milan seemed to complete what had been the missing link in an already very strong Inter side. Which the Neurazzuri completed dominated the scene back home, they failed miserably in Europe every season. This can be brought down to their lack of someone in midfield to do the Trequartista role and link the midfield to attack. In the low level of Serie A, they could get away with it, but in Europe, the lack of creativity in the midfield always got severely punished.

Sneijder changed all this. In his first season, he was an absolutely vital part of the Treble winning Inter squad, the first in the club's history and third in the history of European Football. Most importantly of all, he had a huge hand in breaking Inter's 45 year duck in Europe's top club competition.

He scored the vital goal against Dynamo Kiev which took Inter out of the group stage when they looked set for an embarrassing exit. A crucial assist to Samuel Eto'o at Stamford Bridge in the next round was just as important as it knocked the giants Chelsea out of their way, a result which was predicted by few. The next round he scored the winners home and away as Inter battle past CSKA with two 1-0 wins. In the semi-final against Barcelona he also got a vital goal in the home leg to help Inter through to the big final. In the final itself he assisted both goals as Diego Milito was crowned hero and Inter the Champions. He finished the season leading the assist chart for the Champions League and a winner's medal. The UEFA best midfielder award given to him at the start of this season was no less than deserved, as for player of the season, he was overlooked in favour of Diego Milito, who to be fair had a fabulous CL season, but in my opinion the award should've not gone to anyone but The Smurf.

This is not to mention his countless assists and 5 goals in the Serie A. Sneijder had been the perfect signing for Inter Milan and this brilliant season would bring him confidence to the forthcoming World Cup.

After a slow start against Denmark, a game in which he was still voted Man of the Match, he got the winner against Japan to make sure that Holland were the first team to seal the passage to the knockout rounds, when he truly came to life. An assist and a goal against Slovakia saw the Netherlands go through after a hard fought 2-1 win. Against the giants Brazil, Wes took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half and scoring both goals (albeit one with a giant helping hand from Felipe Melo and Inter team mate Julio Cesar) including a header (which is no small feat against a mean Brazilian back line when you're 1,70m and is nicknamed The Smurf for reasons other than being blue) as Holland came from behind to knock out the five times World Champions. A huge deflection in the semi-final saw him claim 2nd goal in a 3-2 win against Uruguay, which changed the game around and saw the Oranje reach their first World Cup Final since 1978.

Then, against Spain, came the first disapointment Sneijder's perfect year. His team felt hard done by after referee Howard Webb made a mess of two calls within 30 seconds, which led to the Spanish goal, first by ignoring a clear deflection on Sneijder's shot and giving Spain the goal kick and then ignoring a clear foul on Eljero Elia, from which Spain broke and scored the winner with under 4 minutes left on the clock. Wesley had just missed out on the greatest prize of all, only because of a matter of inches.

Let me explain. During normal time, Arjen Robben recieved a perfect through ball from Sneijder and raced clear of the defence with only Casillas to beat. The shot was hit just low enough for the Spanish keeper to get the tip of his toes to it and deny what might have been the winner for Holland. This assist would have probably meant that Sneijder would have then gone on to win the Golden Boot. It would've been the perfect ending to an already fantastic fairy tale in the life of this small Dutchman, but the best year of Wesley's life wasn't to be over yet.

If there needs to be any proof that football is only a reflection of personal life, one needs to look no further than Sneijder. After his divorce spoiled his last season in Madrid, his finest season in the game ended with his marriage to model Yolanthe Cabau (now Sneijder-Cabau) just days after the World Cup final.

So it’s been one year since Wesley got the boot from Real Madrid and this year couldn't have possibly been any better in the life of Wesley Sneijder. With the nominees for the FIFA Ballon d'Or coming about soon, I’d be very surprised if he is not in the top 3. If he is there though, it is through nothing but merit. The boy from Utrecht had many trials and tribulations in his path to becoming, arguably, the best playmaker in the World, but he is proof that a mixture of hard work and immense self belief pay off.

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