"I still don’t know why Real let him go,” said former Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho recently. “Sometimes at clubs, there’s a logic that’s hard to understand. Today, he’s a key member of our team.” Not one to offer praise unduly, the Portuguese tactician has clearly come to hold the Dutch playmaker in the highest regard, having watched him recapture the form he displayed for Ajax before Real Madrid splashed out €27m for his services in summer 2007.
A stalwart at the heart of the Netherlands side during the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers, the elegant schemer from Utrecht contested just five matches on the road to South Africa. Oranje coach Bert van Marwijk sees him as the natural orchestrator of his team’s attacking play, however, and having hit his physical peak with his confidence sky high, Sneijder will now be looking to build on his UEFA EURO 2008 showing, when he earned himself a place in the Team of the Tournament. Previously an international at Under-17, U-19 and U-21 level, the Nerazzurri provocateur twice won Man of the Match plaudits in Austria and Switzerland as the Netherlands swept aside both Italy and France in the group stage. Five years before that, in November 2003, he gave early notice of his prodigious talent by scoring twice and conjuring four assists in a 6-0 win over Scotland.
At ease with both feet, Sneijder has precious few peers in Europe when it comes to his passing ability. He can also speed up the play or slow it down when needed, while his set-piece ability is second to none and his long-range shooting has brought him a hatful of spectacular goals, such as his double against Siena in January. It is no coincidence that Inter hardly ever lose when he is on the pitch.
Brought through the ranks at Ajax originally, he made his maiden Eredivisie appearance at the age of 18 and soon seduced the Amsterdam ArenA faithful with his superior playmaking skills, going on to become a central figure as the capital side clinched league honours in 2003/04. The Dutch Cup followed in 2006 and a year later, having struck 18 goals in his most prolific season, Sneijder left Ajax for life in La Liga. He made the best of starts for Real when he scored the winner in the Madrid derby on his debut, and he was soon handed responsibility for organising the team’s attacks by coach Bernd Schuster.
At the end of a successful first campaign in the Spanish capital, Sneijder could look back on nine goals from 30 games and a league winner’s medal. The following year could hardly have been more different, though, as the Dutchman suffered the effects of an injury picked up pre-season. Sidelined for three months, he lost his place in the starting line-up and never regained it. That opened the door to his Serie A switch in August 2009, with his first game for Inter also a derby. The Nerazzurri triumphed 4-0 against eternal rivals AC Milan and Sneijder stamped his class all over the occasion. Liable to pop up anywhere on the pitch, he built on that performance to mark out his first season in Italy as a stunning success.