A couple of years ago Wesley Sneijder was on top of the world. Champion of Italy, Europe and very nearly the world, and one of the most desired players in football.
Now he is the footballer without a home, edged out by the cost-cutting Internazionale, waiting by the phone with the increasingly forlorn look of a spurned lover whose date hasn’t called. It seems the only club who want him are Galatasaray, but he doesn’t want them, preferring a move to the Premier League. Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United are reported to be the most interested.
The question, however, is whether anyone in England can afford him. And, perhaps more importantly, whether anyone in England should buy him.
The first factor to consider is Sneijder’s wages. He’s on the market because Inter want him to take a 30 per cent pay cut from his reported £200,000-a-week salary. Sneijder, it seems, isn’t keen. But let’s say that his desire to come to England means he’ll knock a bit off that figure, and he signs a two-and-a-half-year contract. A conservative estimate of the deal’s value would still be about £25m – and that’s before considering any fee that Inter want, not to mention agent fees. It’s a significant amount of cash and no mistake.
There are only a few English clubs who could come close to affording that, and would Sneijder suit any of them? Chelsea already have at least three No10s, Manchester City would have to restructure their side to accommodate him, Manchester United have already turned him down once on the basis of wages (and have other areas where the money could be better spent), while Arsenal have Santi Cazorla and the idea of paying anyone £200,000 a week is anathema to Arsène Wenger. Spurs have just sold a mercurial Dutchman who could only really play in one position, and buying an expensive 28-year-old goes against their current recruitment policy. The same applies to Liverpool, who probably couldn’t afford him anyway. Who’s left? Basically, nobody.
Moreover, is Sneijder worth the money and hassle? There’s a reason why he has only excelled for relatively short periods of time, when a team is built around him. That’s what happened when he was the centre of José Mourinho’s Inter in 2009-10. Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o scored the goals, but Sneijder pulled the strings in the classic trequartista role – the side was set up to make the most of his strengths. When Mourinho’s system required someone to shift to the flank, it was Eto’o rather than the Dutchman who had played wide at Ajax and Real Madrid.
Can any Premier League team afford to operate like this? You can’t imagine André Villas-Boas or Brendan Rodgers wanting to rip up their fluid playing style to accommodate a No10. If a club is to spend millions on a player, then instruct the other 10 chaps to play to his strengths, they’d want to be certain of getting a sure thing. And Sneijder is by no means a sure thing, as Man Utd must have concluded when they walked away from a potential deal.
Another question mark is fitness. Sneijder has been injured no less than 10 times in the past season and a half, and was fit for just 20 Serie A matches last season, playing 90 minutes in only five of those. Not the most compelling case for a manager asking his chairman to commit the deficit of a small nation to one footballer (especially one as frugal at Tottenham’s Daniel Levy or the Liverpool owners, FSG and their new quest for value for money), and surely one of the main reasons Inter wanted to trim his salary in the first place.
Perhaps the best indicator of why Sneijder would be a bad move is how disposable he has become in Milan. Sure, like many clubs in Italy, Inter want to save money, but if Sneijder was still the player he was a couple of years ago a deal would have been thrashed out by now. Last season they were often better without a player that flitted in and out of the games he was fit for. Indeed, they went on a seven-game winning streak during one of his frequent absences. Regular Inter-watchers say they are a more balanced team when they don’t have to accommodate an undoubtedly talented but ultimately disruptive No10.
If no English side steps up and he does go to Turkey – which he clearly doesn’t want to do – we could compliment Sneijder on making a tough career choice: playing football somewhere, rather than just collecting Inter’s money. As we’ve seen with Hulk at Zenit St Petersburg, however, a move that a player isn’t committed to can and will cause problems. In a year’s time we could be in the same position, with Sneijder’s name a constant presence in the English gossip columns. No Premier League side should get involved then, and they certainly shouldn’t now.