Unheralded Genius | Wesley Sneijder – The Dutch No.10


With cold blooded veins and the vision of a killer assassin, with the energy of a horse and the elegance of a ballet dancer, Wesley Sneijder, in his heydays, was a magician spinning his magic week in and week out much to the joy and ecstasy of the fans and much to the dismay of the opponents. He unlocked the tightest of defences with the simplest of passes. He scored free-kicks out of nowhere, from the acutest of angles to from a distance of 40 yards. His passing range, vision and technical ability were ridiculously good to say the least. His energy and the darting runs he made left many astounded. Wesley Sneijder was undoubtedly sheer brilliance personified.

The 2000’s saw the attacking midfielder‘s importance rise but towards the end of the decade, a pure number 10 was just not enough anymore. A player just could not be afforded all the freedom in the world to just create. Fast forward to today, a pure number 10 is not seen in all the teams as beefing up the central midfield is given more importance. But Wesley Sneijder was one such player who could play in any side as a number 10 because of the various facets he offers as a player.

“For me a number 10 does a lot of things, with the ball and without the ball. So for me a number 10 is a very special player in my team.

With a system of two midfield players and one number 10, I demand a lot from a number 10.

I like a number 10 to score goals. I like a number 10 to get in the box. I like a number 10 to score goals like Oscar’s against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

A number 10 for me is an eight-and-a-half when the team loses the ball, and the number 10 is a nine-and-a-half when the team has the ball.

Who is my perfect number 10? Wesley Sneijder and Deco. Because they could defend, get in the box and finish goals? Yes.”  

-Jose Mourinho

Wesley Sneijder played as one of the three players supporting the striker. He usually played in the middle where his vision and passing came into full show. The 4-2-3-1 allowed Sneijder to remain high up in the pitch with a solid midfield platform behind him. He dictated the game with ease whole playing high up the pitch. The presence of wingers made Sneijder virtually impossible to mark, with the wingers preferring to drift inside. It left a man in the hole completely free which on most occasions happened to be Wesley Sneijder.

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Wesley Sneijder’s ability to offer penetration and creativity while also using his tactical and positional awareness to nullify opponent midfield was unparalleled. Wesley Sneijder had the best seasons of his career from 2010 to 12. He was at his brilliant best while at Mourinho’s Inter Milan and Bert Van Marwijk’s Netherlands. There is a striking similarity between these two teams. Both these teams relied on a counter-attacking style of football. The transition from defence to attack had to take place at a lightening quick pace.

Wesley Sneijder could weave a beautiful through ball with minimum time on the ball. It is no coincidence that he thrived best in the aforementioned teams that had Sneijder being the playmaker in chief. His adaptability is something that goes unnoticed and is often under-stated. He adapted himself to the team, played as a central midfielder or an inverted winger. But for him to thrive in such conditions there had to be one condition which ultimately affected his career in the latter stages. The condition was that he had to be the chief playmaker of the team.

Coming from the famous academy which has produced some legendary attackers like Johan Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp, Sneijder’s football is very much the Ajax way of football. The Ajax blueprint of football left a deep imprint in Wesley Sneijder which is very much visible in his game. Right from the perfected technique to the beautiful elegance Ajax’s footballing philosophy runs in his blood. The reason why Johan Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp were mentioned earlier is because they personified the Dutch and worldwide famous Ajax flair. Wesley Sneijder too showed the flair and elegance but he certainly didn’t have a career as good as Cruyff or Bergkamp.

Following the footsteps of his elder brother, he impressed in a trial before joining the academy. Upon youth coach Danny Blind’s advice, Ronald Koeman named him in the substitutes against Excelsior. However he didn’t get a chance to come off the bench. He made his debut on February 2, 2003 against Willem II with the game ending in a 6-0 Ajax victory.

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He took no time to establish himself in the team even starting in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals against Ajax in April 2003. His impressive performances made him a key player for Ajax. In the 2003-04 season he scored nine league goals that culminated with Sneijder winning the Johan Cruyff Trophy for the best young player in Netherlands. He continued to impress for the next seasons. He joined Real Madrid for 27 million Euros in the summer of 2007. This transfer made him the second costliest Dutch player.

Upon joining Real Madrid he took over the No 23 jersey previously worn by the English superstar David Beckham. He quickly established himself as a key component of the Real Madrid which had quite a few Dutchmen like Arjen Robben, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Royston Drenthe. He ended the season with 9 goals as Real Madrid retained the La Liga. The departure of Robinho to Manchester City allowed Sneijder to shift to the vacant No 10 jersey. He had an injury hit 2008-09 season as Real Madrid failed to match the brilliant Barcelona team under Pep Guardiola.

Real Madrid were forced to come up with a response to Barcelona’s treble winning team. Galacticos Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo joined the team along with the exciting French forward Karim Benzema. This was followed by a mass exodus of players, most of whom were Dutch. Arjen Robben had joined Bayern Munich, Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Ruud Van Nistelooy moved to AC Milan and Hamburg respectively. Wesley Sneijder joined Italian Champions Internazionale who had just appointed Jose Mourinho as their manager.

In their first season, with Sneijder as their attacking weapon in their counter-attacking game, Inter Milan ended up winning the treble in the 2009-10 season. Around the same time, Netherlands reached the final of the FIFA World Cup with Sneijder being their key man. Sneijder scored 4 goals in the World Cup to finish at the top for the most goals tied with Thomas Muller, David Villa etc. Much to his disappointment Netherlands lost 1-0 Spain, who themselves were enjoying their golden era. He was named as the best club midfielder by UEFA for his performances in Champions League.

After Mourinho left Inter Milan to take over Real Madrid, Inter continuously had a change in managers. Rafa Benitez, Claudio Ranieri, Gian Gasperini, Andrea Stramacionni and Leonardo were at the helm at San Siro from 2010 to January 2013. In this period, Sneijder struggled to adapt himself under the managers plus the continuous change in managers gave him very little time to adapt. Moreover injuries affected him more often than not in this period. He played at different positions under different managers even playing as a left sided winger which particularly didn’t suit him because of his lack of pace. He decided to leave Inter and join Turkish giants Galatasaray in the winter window of 2013.

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Having received a rapturous welcome at Galatasaray, Sneijder quoted about emulating Galatasray legend Gheorge Hagi in his presentation. He made a great start in Turkey scoring against Real Madrid in the Champions League. Galatasaray ended the season as league champions. He had a respectable 2014-15 scoring against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League. He also scored a hattrick against Bursaspor . He also scored against arch rivals Fenerbahce and also scoring the winner in the Turkish Cup final against Eskisehirspor.

It was the 2014-15 in which he truly established himself to the Galatasaray faithful. He single-handedly won them the league scoring 10 goals in the process. Wesley Sneijder celebrated the title win with the fans at his residence. During the official title ceremony he made himself a cult hero and became an instant hero when he sang the famous “Dont cry Fener” in front of the 52000 Galatasaray fans. He particularly came into his own in the games against Fenerbahce every season which is more than enough for achieving club legend status. During the latter seasons he continued to play well often being unnoticed just because he played in a supposedly inferior league.

Internationally he is the most capped Dutch player of all time. The period just after Dennis Bergkamp saw a dearth of attacking midfielders coming out of the country. Sneijder was the heir to the No 10 role which he performed admirably. He was named in the team of the tournament in both Euro 2008 and FIFA World Cup 2010. He has scored 31 goals in 131 appearances for the Oranje. Yes, with 131 caps for Netherlands, Wesley Sneijder is the most capped Dutch player of all time ahead of the likes of Edwin van der Sar and Frank de Boer.

His passing, technical ability along with his ambidexterity made him an actual threat to the opposition. His immense dead ball ability which saved his teams numerous teams were another facet to his game. He dictated the game in style and in his prime he was virtually unplayable. He represents everything Dutch and was a symbol of the Dutch footballing philosophy in the 2000s and early 2010s. This unheralded genius is often overlooked among the top midfielders but very few could actually match him on the field.

His desire to help the team and to win made him the player he is. He was a complete attacking midfielder in his prime and he has to be fondly deserved for his contributions to this Beautiful game. Untimely injuries and no stable stay at a club may be quoted as reasons as to why Sneijder did not particularly end up with the credit he deserved. It is no doubt that Sneijder was and will always remain a genius. While the fact remains that Sneijder did garner a reputation for being the great player he was, there is always this feeling that he never got his due share nor did his career peak up to the levels it probably should have.