Next season at Inter, new Coach Rafa Benitez will inherit arguably currently the world’s best playmaker in Wesley Sneijder. The Dutchman will tell you as much himself. But for all the poise and technique that Sneijder brings to Inter, the Nerazzurri have not yet experienced the side to him that his previous clubs have felt.
It is no secret that Sneijder’s biggest fan is himself. Despite his unquestioned talent, history has proved that he is difficult to get along with unless things go exactly how he wants. Last season at Inter, Jose Mourinho was able to harness Sneijder’s temper for the good of the team. There is perhaps nobody better at managing difficult personalities than Mourinho, which is surely why Real Madrid were so keen to sign him. Benitez, on the other hand, has a very different track record with players of Sneijder’s ilk.
Just months after making his Ajax debut aged 18, Sneijder was left on the bench for a match, much to his anguish. After coming and scoring the winner, he stuck up his middle finger at his Coach, Ronald Koeman. Another legend claims that at a training camp for the national side, Sneijder once bragged how he earned 20 times more than some of the younger players.
Ajax has always been a holding pen for the best young Dutchmen, but few shed a tear when Sneijder inevitably left. His high opinion of himself was almost justified when he scored the winner for Real Madrid in the derby against Atletico after an £18m move. But after a fantastic first season, it became clear that Real wanted to usher in a new Galactico era. As sure of himself as ever, Sneijder urged his teammates to leave for first-team football, but the club sold him instead.
After experiencing rejection for the first time, Sneijder found himself loved again at Inter. Mourinho’s remarkable man-management ability got the best out of the playmaker, and more challengingly, stopped his vocal outbursts. But now Benitez has taken over, his differing management style may clash with Sneijder.
At Liverpool, Benitez had an odd way of dealing with creative players. Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard were regularly played out of position, and Yossi Benayoun has recently left Anfield citing Benitez as the reason for his loss of confidence. Back at Valencia, the likes of Pablo Aimar were bizarrely handled by Benitez.
Sneijder has never had a problem voicing his opinion, even if it is to the detriment of his team. Even in the World Cup where he led Holland to the final, there were murmurs of his feud with Robin van Persie re-emerging. But after his marvellous season last term, where he won Serie A, the Coppa Italia, and the Champions League with Inter, he will certainly have more weight to his controversial opinions. He looks a shoo-in for the FIFA Ballon d’Or too, so if there is anything except unequivocal success at Inter next season, Benitez may have a ticking time bomb on his hands.