Back in the summer, the words Wesley Sneijder and Manchester United were banded about more times than the sun came up. Nothing came of it, yet the reports never died down. Sneijder and Inter Milan denied any approach from United; United denied any approach for Sneijder. Both parties didn’t seem particularly interested in a deal, yet the media frenzy surrounding the pair led to many a report of talks, negotiations and deals being struck.
Since the summer, however, nothing has changed bar form. United still lack that killer instinct in midfield, yet financial issues and arrogance and perseverance from Sir Alex Ferguson has led to the re-signing of retired Paul Scholes, and a push on the youth from the Academy. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not enough to fill a void that has been left by too many years of neglect in preparation for retirements and players moving on.
Sneijder himself has suffered, too. After the resignation of Leonardo in the summer to become the Director of Football at Paris Saint-Germain, Gian Piero Gasperini, former Genoa manager, was appointed Head Coach, and it all fell from there. He sold the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Davide Santon, and with Marco Materazzi leaving the club too, experience was disappearing through the club’s firm foundations. In came Diego Forlan and Mauro Zarate – two big names in European football that Gasperini believed would rocket Inter to their 19th Serie A title.
Sneijder had a lot placed on his shoulders. Suddenly becoming the star player for a team with such an illustrious history, alongside having been an unsung leader in the Netherlands’ quest to the World Cup final in 2010, and having such a furore made over a prospective move away from the club, can have a massive effect on a player. Gasperini pushed and pushed his team, but to no avail – shock defeats and poor performances on the pitch led to him being sacked in late September, to be replaced by former Chelsea, Valencia and Juventus boss Claudio Ranieri.
Sneijder took it within his stride, but injury struck in early November, whilst warming up for a Serie A clash against Cagliari. Ranieri had built a team with a great work ethic, and that team was built to include the Dutchman. This mystery muscular strain kept Sneijder on the sidelines until earlier this month, with a substitute return in the Milan derby, in which Inter won 1-0.
But whilst Sneijder has been on the sidelines, summer signing Ricky Alvarez has filled his position rather brilliantly. Quick feet, an attacking instinct and great accuracy led to him quickly becoming an integral part of this Sneijder-less Inter team. He fitted into Ranieri’s favoured 4-3-1-2 formation instantly, and ran games from his attacking midfield role, much like Sneijder. His €11.75m transfer fee from Argentine club Velez Sarsfield looked to be a bargain, and his performances over the Christmas period, in particular against Lecce at the San Siro, have led to many really taking note of his ability.
It begs the question: do Internazionale really need Sneijder any more? Reports from earlier this month say no, and that sporting director Marco Branca was ready to travel to England to discuss a potential deal with United for the Dutchman. This was categorically denied, and Ranieri himself said he wishes for Sneijder to stay.
Alvarez has been a revelation in Serie A, and seemingly Ranieri will favour him over Sneijder. This will no doubt sent ripples through Europe, with United, Man City, and PSG all likely to show interest in the Dutchman if this continues. Without Sneijder in their team, Inter have climbed from 16th in the table in early November, to their current position of 5th, just six points behind leaders Juventus.
It makes you wonder why this is. Maybe the team play better without the knowledge that Sneijder will be running the game? Maybe the lack of a possible ego in the squad raises morale? Maybe, coincidentally, they’ve just played better without him? We’ll not know until later this season.
Will Sneijder move? Eventually, yes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some form of deal tentatively put in place over the coming weeks and months in preparation for the summer. Sneijder is too good a talent not to be used. There are rumblings that other big stars may be moving too – Kaka, of Real Madrid, being one of them. A short-term loan deal for Sneijder may be what the likes of PSG or Man City line up before a big-money move in the summer.
United, on the other hand, won’t bring players in during January, due to Ferguson’s principles of ‘squad disruption’. This isn’t usually a problem, but with a lack of midfield presence and constant fluctuating results and performances, there’s a distinct lack of attacking determination and defensive cover. This leaves United a little short in comparison to big-spenders City, with Yaya Toure at the top of his game, and the exuberant Tottenham, who are still well within a shout of the Premier League title.
Inter have played some quite majestic football without Sneijder, but they also play great football with him too. Should he leave, it will only be to continue playing first-team football, and making a difference. Something he may not be able to do at Inter for much longer, bearing in mind the form of others.