As FC Internazionale Milano prepare to face FC Schalke 04, Wesley Sneijder talks to UEFA.com about being reunited with Raúl González and why Leonardo is "one of us" – like José Mourinho.
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Wesley Sneijder says "it would be very nice" to face his former coach José Mourinho in the UEFA Champions League final but for the time being he is more focused on an old team-mate as FC Internazionale Milano take on Raúl González's FC Schalke 04 in the quarter-finals.
The 26-year-old Dutch international played with Raúl between 2007 and 2009 at Real Madrid CF before joining Inter and lifting the UEFA Champions League Trophy at the Santiago Bernabéu last May. "Raúl is a real professional," Sneijder told UEFA.com. "He was a true Madrid captain, and he helped me a lot when I had just arrived, like a real boss. It will be nice to see him again because I haven't seen him since leaving Madrid."
Sneijder will be reunited with Raúl in Tuesday's first leg in Milan, although the playmaker did not expect to be seeing the former Spain striker with any team other than the Merengues. "I was surprised when he left Madrid, because he was like [Javier] Zanetti here at Inter – he was the face of the club," Sneijder continued. "I was sure he would finish [his career] there, but he is doing well in Germany. He is scoring goals, like he did in Spain, so we have to watch out."
After beating FC Bayern München in last season's final, Inter have encountered Bundesliga opposition in SV Werder Bremen in the group stage and Bayern again in the round of 16. However, Sneijder believes the Schalke tie will be totally different. "It's not like we were happy [after the draw] that it was German opponents again – no, because they are tough. However, we have to believe in ourselves, we have a good feeling."
Home advantage in the first leg is nothing new for Inter. Not only was the first game against Bayern at San Siro; the Nerazzurri had the same pattern in all their knockout rounds last term. "Last season we started every tie at home," Sneijder recalled. "We started against Chelsea at home. We started against CSKA [Moskva] at home. Barcelona at home. It's a good omen for us."
Yet they had never had to recover from a home defeat – 1-0 – as against Bayern last month. "We did a great job in Munich," said Sneijder, whose second-half equaliser in Munich prefaced Goran Pandev's 88th-minute clincher that crowned Inter's comeback at 3-2. "When we were losing 2-1, I had the feeling we could still beat them."
Mourinho, the coach who oversaw Inter's 2010 triumph, was also happy with the result and sent Inter president Massimo Moratti a congratulatory text. "I don't know if he did it with all the players, but he sent me a message as well," Sneijder revealed. "Of course it's nice to receive a message from Mourinho. He's still one of us."
Inter and Mourinho's Madrid cannot meet unless both reach the Wembley final on 28 May. "That would be very nice," the former AFC Ajax man went on. "I hope we make it until the final and I hope they make it as well. But for sure, I hope we win then."
Mourinho's successor Rafael Benítez gave way to Leonardo in December and Inter have found their old form since the new year. "Of course something has changed," Sneijder said. "I would be lying if I said no. It seems like Leonardo is one of us. He is not Italian, but he has been here for many years and he knows the culture. We are very happy with him and I suppose he is very happy with us.
"I think we are playing the same way as last year, but now the last two months are the most important. Here you can win prizes so we don't have to think about playing nicely, we have to win our games. We are still in the race to reach the final and win it. We have to believe like we did last year."