At the age of just 24, Dutch maestro Wesley Sneijder has already appeared at two editions of the UEFA European Championship and one FIFA World Cup™, as well as emerging as a firm fans' favourite at boyhood club Ajax. It was his performances in Amsterdam that caught the eye of Spanish giants Real Madrid, the playmaker signing for Los Merengues in 2007 and winning the La Liga title in his first season.
FIFA.com spoke to the fresh-faced star about a range of issues, including Real's current travails, his time at Ajax and his thoughts on the Dutch national team set-up.
FIFA.com: Wesley, what's happening to Real Madrid at the moment?
Wesley Sneijder: The seasons are very long and every team goes through dips in form and bad results. Last season we also went through spells of playing badly and we got through them. But I don't think there's any need to be alarmed. We've still got some major objectives to challenge for in order to finish the season on a high. Now we all need to work together to get on the right track. And if we're unable to play nice football, we need to find some other ways to win games.
The Real fans are already concerned by the current situation. Is there any way to get them back on side?
It makes sense that the supporters are angry about the way things are going because we're Real Madrid and they expect a lot from us. Now more than ever it's time for us to be united, handle the situation well and rediscover our best form. It's a time for unity and not for playing as individuals. Once we put another run of good results together the criticism will die down. That's football.
Real spent relatively little in the transfer market this summer, with the exception of Rafael van der Vaart. Are the team paying the price for not having enough strength in depth?
Yes, I think that has affected us at times, especially when we've had a spate of injuries. But even so I think that there's enough quality in this squad for us to win the league title and the atmosphere in the dressing room is very good.
There is an Oranje tint to the Real squad nowadays. How do the Dutch players at the club all get on?
When I arrived, Ruud van Nistelrooij was already here and he was a huge help with many things. It's much easier to adapt when you have your countrymen around and now there are six of us. We're a good bunch and we all get on well, but I think six is enough because we tend to speak Dutch together and we ought to be learning Spanish!
Barcelona are playing some spectacular football at the moment. Do you think they are set to deny Real a third straight La Liga crown?
Of course they're in with a chance of winning the title because they have a very good team and play fantastic football. But every team will go through a bad patch, it's a very long season.
Who was your boyhood hero? Is there anyone you look to now as someone you could learn from?
At the moment there's no one I really look to. I was never really one of those boys who had a lot of heroes, but when I was in the Ajax youth system I'd follow the great AC Milan players (Ruud) Gullit, (Marco) Van Basten and (Frank) Rijkaard. I found it fascinating to see those Dutchmen succeeding at one of the biggest clubs in Europe. When I was in the Ajax youth team we'd always go and watch the first team play. We'd be told to focus on the player who played in the same position as we did, and Edgar Davids was in my position. I always wanted to play like he did and achieve what he had in football.
The Ajax school is a genuine conveyor belt of talent. How do you remember your time there?
That school is one of the best in the world, it's marvellous. They've got everything under control, from the academic side to the nutrition. You train every day, they make sure you're studying. It's a great experience. My little brother Rodney is there and he's already signed a contract with Ajax. He's a good player, hopefully one day we'll play side by side for the same team.
Is it not the case that your father had to give up a lot to make sure you could train with Ajax?
That's right. We lived in Utrecht, which is 25km from Amsterdam, where my older brother (Jeffrey) and I had to go every day to train with Ajax. It's not that far away, but my dad had to work nights in order to be able to take us to training during the day. When my brother's training finished, mine would start, so he would have to spend the entire day in Amsterdam with us. But now he's very proud.
Which coach has had the biggest impact on your career?
Well, I had so many different coaches at Ajax. I think Danny Blind was the most important, I worked with him when I was 16 years old. He'd always say to me that 'you're capable of playing in that stadium, you're capable of reaching the first team, but you have to listen to me and do what you're told every day'. I did just that and was in the first team within two years. He's a great person, a very good coach and he was also a great player. I could also mention Henk ten Cate. He was important because in my last year at Ajax he gave me a lot of freedom to express myself. He said to me that I had a lot of quality and that I should do what I wanted out on the pitch. Thanks to him I really blossomed as a player and ended up signing for Real Madrid.
Let us talk about the Dutch national team. The Netherlands played some great football at UEFA EURO 2008. After the quarter-final exit to Russia, what was your verdict on how the team did?
I think that we had an impressive squad and put in excellent displays against France and Italy. Even now, every time I think about that game against Russia I can't really grasp what went wrong. We had an off day. When we went a goal down we lost our shape... I think that we'll struggle to get a better chance to win the (European) title.
How have things changed under new coach Bert van Marwijk?
There aren't any major changes. We changed our tactical system last year and we've stuck with that. We've got (Mark) van Bommel back now too and he's doing a great job, while we've also got guaranteed quality between the sticks with the new keepers. We played well at the EURO so there wasn't much that needed fixing.
What are the next career challenges you've set yourself?
To win the Champions League with Real Madrid and the World Cup with the Oranje.