On June, Netherland natioanal team have a tour to Indonesia. It supposed to be joyful occasion with tropical sunshine, new experience in new country, fans greetings, and leisure match. Alas, it turned out to be sour trip for Sneijder. Van Gaal confirmed that Sneijder was stripped of his national team captaincy and replace him with Van Persie who wore it in the match against Indonesia national team. And recently, he is omitted from national team squad in friendy match against Portugal at next month. With such precedence, there is chance he will lose the spot forever. What is happening to the player who once regarded as the one of world best players ?
Continuity between Mourinho and Van Marwijk
He played for Ajax in 2002-2007 seasons and Real Madrid in 2007-2009 seasons, but it was in year 2010 which saw him at the peak of his career. He was the key element for Inter Milan in historic treble winner 2009/2010 season. He also brought Netherlands into runner-up position in World Cup 2010. When he was omitted from top 3 nomination Ballon D’Or 2010 award, the whole world fumed upon such idiocy. Even Xavi (the 3rd winner) acknowledged Sneijder as the better candidate. Such global accolade confirmed his status as one of the best player in the world.
At that time, Sneijder gained benefit from the match-up between him and the coaches, i.e. Mourinho and Van Marwijk. Both of them are fans of counter-attack football. They both love to contain opponent’s onslaught before launching incisive counter-attack. Here, Sneijder acted as the key player to provide the pass to expose the space abandoned by attacking side.
At Inter, he wasn’t deployed at central midfielder, the position he used to play since he was in Ajax. Instead, he played as a trequartista. At first, such decision raised a lot of eyebrows. He was not the same mould as Totti, Zidane, Boban, or Rui Costa. But it turned out that Mourinho had different concept of trequartista in his counter-attack football scheme. Sneijder wasn’t meant to dictate the flow of the game, but to provide key assist in minimal possession time.
One good example was when Sneijder provided the assist for Milito’s 1st goal against Bayern Munich in UCL Final 2010. After Julio Cesar claimed the ball, he punted the ball far upfield to Milito. Then, the Argentinian head the ball to Sneijder then the latter gave the ball back to Milito, shot, and goal. The process only involved 3 players, 6 touches, and few seconds to cover from end to other end of the pitch.
This is where Sneijder adept at. He isn’t a classic trequartista, he also isn’t a pure passer like Xavi or Pirlo. Instead, he is very unique for being a direct playmaker. He isn’t the playmaker who controls the game, he doesn’t connect millions passes to retain the possession as long as possible. Instead, he must capitalize every available second to launch swift and deadly counter-attack.
Also, don’t forget his ability to execute set-piece especially direct freekick. His setpiece ability complements himself as the counter-attack specialist. Foul is one of effective ways to nullify the counter-attack. But, when there is deadball specialist in opposition team, the foul will be punished and the freekick scenario will be equally dangerous to counter-attack scenario. Foul is easily conceded when the defenders (countered team) are in much slower state then attackers (coutering team). Such circumstance happens a lot in counter-attack when the attackers already reach their fullspeed while the defenders must either backrun or need time to reach their fullspeed.
Moratti’s Quick Trigger Finger Backfires Him and Sneijder
After the succesful continous spell with Mourinho and Van Marwijk, he certainly didn’t expect the disaster would come so quickly. Over the next 3 years, 5 different coaches handled Inter viz. Benitez, Leonardo, Gasperini, Ranieri,and Stramaccioni. Contrary to the continuity he used to enjoy with his coaches, now he had to deal with 5 coaches with different concept in each’s head. Also, he suffered the relapse of repetitive injuries that once plagued him and now it haunted over him again. Inter and Sneijder suffered excruciating seasons during those years, but for the latter, the time with Gasperini, Ranieri, and Stramaccioni were his worst.
Gasperini was the fan of 3-4-3 formation and he made it clear from very first day that he would use it regardless the players he had in the squad. For him, the players must adapt to the coach. The biggest problem for Inter was, Moratti didn’t trust Gasperini and his 3-4-3. Then, he didn’t comply to the players that Gasperini demanded therefore wondered us why he appointed Gasperini from the very first place. For Sneijder, 3-4-3 formation was disaster because he couldn’t unleash his full potential. Eventually, Sneijder didn’t have to adapt further to the formation because Gasperini only lasted for but 5 matches.
The appointment of Ranieri brought some fresh air for Sneijder. He has the title of Tinkerman for his ability to repair the sinking team and adapt with his environment. He is also the fan of counter-attack football thus bringing the optimistic feeling for Sneijder to replicate his top form again. Too bad, all his hopes vanished in the series of unfortunate occasions. Another injury hit him again. When he was treating his injury, it coincided with 7 consecutive win in Serie-A by Inter. By the time Sneijder recovered and returned to the pitch, Thiago Motta (who was very vital to Ranieri tactic) was sold to PSG and soon the team lost their balance. Both occasions coincided with Inter’s lost streak and it was dilemma for Ranieri and Sneijder. Should Ranieri keep his winning team without Sneijder ? Or should he use Sneijder to cover the loss of Motta (which implied the overhaul of system because both of them are 2 different players) ? For Sneijder, how could he give his 100 % if he, club, and fans see him as 1 of factors which led Inter to the downfall ? Either it was true or not, it sure lowered his confidence and messed his head hence non-optimal performances for the rest of season. Oh, and another injury hit him.
After result crisis and fitness crisis, now tactical crisis also piled up to Sneijder’s misery. Still a mistery until now how Sneijder adjusted his playing style to inverted winger. His starting position wasn’t from the center anymore, but from the left. It was just so freaking ludicrous. The inverted winger position is designated for dribbler with fast pace and quick turn rate while they are obviously not Sneijder’s strong points. If he was about to change his position, he should revert himself into central midfielder like he used to do in Ajax or Madrid or to deep lying playmaker which is favoured in modern football. He chose neither of them and ….
…the result was an utter disaster. He isn’t Robben who is comfortable as the inverted winger and menacing opposition defence. His lack of quickness restricted him for being effective inverted winger. His ego and impatience led him to excessive and wasteful irrational longshots, much to the annoyance to the fans. His freedom was restricted as he was no longer stationed at the center of the park. The disastrous result at Inter during 2011/2012 season and Netherlands at Euro 2012 sank him into even deeper frustration.
During Stramaccioni tenure, the situation was even more ridiculous. Sneijder was hit (again) by injury, but when he was totally recovered, he was sidelined due to his unwillingness to sign the newer contract which would cut his salary significantly. After all cheap soap dramas, Sneijder was offloaded to Galatasaray for mere €6 million.
Epilogue; 1-Pass-1-Assist Midfielder
He has just begun his quest at Turkey for 6 months and it is difficult to forecast how his career will turn out to be. Theoritically, it would be difficult. One key factor is his uniqueness as direct playmaker as opposed to dictating playmaker. Being unique is great because the it gives more thought for opposition to find the solution. Being unique also means the lack of competition for certain position and role. There are many great dictating playmakers out there, e.g. Xavi, Pirlo, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Modric, Xabi etc, but there is only 1 great direct playmaker to lead the counter-attack : Sneijder. That’s why Sir Alex Ferguson was so persistent to sign him. Now, his uniqueness becomes his drawback as there is only 1 way to utilise him. With more and more teams favour the possessive and attacking football, Sneijder must adapt himself to the recent change in football evolution. It would be impossible for Fatih Terim to adjust his style into counter-attacking football only to accomodate. Sneijder has no choice. He must adapt to Terim’s need and the rest of his career will depend on how adaptive he is.
Sneijder had only brief spell of prominence, but it was enough to incur the ripple of his influence to the other side of Atlantic Ocean. It was no coincidence that Ganso’s breakthrough was approximately when Sneijder his his peak. Ganso had unique characteristic as a playmaker. He might go invisible for many minutes before unlocking the defence with 1 flick. Surely it is different from Sneijder, but the point is both of them have unique knack to unlock the defence with minimum time. It is interesting to imagine how would current football be if Sneijder manages to keep playing at highest level and Ganso isn’t vulnerable to injury. Now, we see the death of the poacher. Poacher is the sort of striker whose task is only and only to score a goal. The best example are Inzaghi, Gerd Muller, Chicarito etc. Because he doesn’t have any other ability beside scoring, he should and must capitalize every chance to put the ball at the back of the net hence the term of 1-shot-1-goal comes. Sneijder and Ganso are the midfielder version of the poacher, only in this case they must convert every pass to assist. If both of them dominate world football now, maybe the concept of specialist midfielder will not evolve into complete midfielder as we experience now, but into 1-pass-1-assist midfielder. Maybe the main objective of every team isn’t about dominating possession to limit opponent’s chance, but how to utilize limited time as efficient as possible. Maybe the poacher will emerge once more because the team will aim to score in limited time as opposed to the targetman. Maybe, oh well, there is no end for “if “ and “maybe” in football.