FC Internazionale Milano playmaker Wesley Sneijder will be hoping to build on a remarkable first year in Italy where he rediscovered his spark to help propel Inter to a historic treble.
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A year is a long time in any walk of life, let alone football. FC Internazionale Milano's Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder can certainly testify to that.
A little over 12 months ago the 26-year-old was deemed surplus to requirements at Real Madrid CF after two difficult seasons in Spain. It was perhaps a shock to those who had followed his career from his early days at AFC Ajax, where he excelled to the point he was drawing comparisons with another graduate from the club's famous academy, Johan Cruyff.
For whatever reason, Sneijder did not fit the bill at the Santiago Bernabéu and it was clear his destiny lay away from Spain. Step in José Mourinho, a coach whose bold approach to management has helped him lift the UEFA Champions League twice in seven seasons. Under his guidance, Sneijder rediscovered the form that made him one of Europe's most exciting talents, consistently putting in breathtaking performances to help bring Inter the trophy the club had craved the most.
As Mourinho would later reveal, it was a simple case of restoring the player's confidence. The Portuguese achieved his target and it was not without reward, as Sneijder proved instrumental in his coach's second conquest of Europe. An unprecedented treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and UEFA Champions League honours meant last year belonged to Inter. The Nerazzurri marshalled matches with the authority of European champions, but while Lucio and Walter Samuel ran a tight ship defensively, it was Sneijder who wreaked havoc at the opposite end and his performances did not go unnoticed by the opposition.
"He is a phenomenal player," said Chelsea FC boss Carlo Ancelotti, who saw his team eliminated by a Sneijder-inspired Inter in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. "The way he performed last season was exceptional. His level of performance rarely dropped and he was a key part of everything the team achieved. I think you only need to look at Diego Milito's opening goal in the Champions League final to understand this. The way he drifted into the space, spotted the opportunity to attack and exploited it to feed Milito to score. Players like Sneijder are a rare commodity in football."
The plaudits have not ended there for a player nominated for the UEFA Club Midfielder of the Year award in Monaco. "Sneijder is a midfielder with great ability," said the FC Bayern München coach, Louis van Gaal. A compatriot of Sneijder, Van Gaal was another on the receiving end of the No10's individual brilliance as he helped unlock the German side's defence in the UEFA Champions League final. "He can pass with his left and right foot and can also shoot with both," Van Gaal added. "He gives the team balance and always makes the right decision, providing many assists and also scoring goals."
Ironically, the coach who inspired the Sneijder renaissance by bringing him to Italy is now in charge at Madrid. However, the Dutch playmaker, who scored five goals for his country at the FIFA World Cup this summer, knows he is with the right club to continue his development into a potential great. Another European honour in Monaco will put him one rung higher on that ladder.
This is an abridged version of an interview which appears in the official UEFA Super Cup programme.