"I'm going with my head high, I'm going to a great team, there's no doubt about that. I've been very happy here but now I have to look ahead and focus on my new team. What happened with me is something very strange. They have treated me very badly but I prefer not to talk about it.”
Those words, laced with bitterness at the way his stay had ended, were spoken by Wesley Sneijder in August 2009 as he moved from Real Madrid to Inter in a transfer worth around €15 million. The situation was eerily similar to the one in which the player now finds himself as his relationship with the Nerazzurri has deteriorated extremely quickly. He is refusing to extend his contract until 2016, a move proposed by Inter to allow them to spread the salary of his current contract over that extra season as they seek to reduce costs.
Whoever is making the final decision on his playing status – both Coach Andrea Stramaccioni and Technical Director Marco Branca have claimed to have had the final say – the Dutchman has not featured since late September and, just a short hours after leaving a meeting with Inter’s directors and his agent earlier this week, he released a brief statement. "How can I accept a new contract under these conditions when I am not even playing?" A straightforward question from a player currently on the outside looking in as the San Siro club continue to overlook him.
Missing out on the Champions League has had huge financial repercussions for Inter and they have parted ways with a raft of iconic players – the Brazilian trio of Maicon, Lucio and Julio Cesar among them – who shaped their recent history and been key figures in the incredible treble winning season of 2009-10. Yet no player – perhaps other than Diego Milito – played a more vital role in Jose Mourinho’s complete dominance of Europe.
Even this season he has recorded, in his five appearances, a WhoScored.com rating better than all but six Nerazzurri players to have played more than once, netting a goal and an assist in the opening two games of the campaign. He even manages to still lead the side in terms of shots per game (4.2) and, more pertinently, key passes per game with 2.8 per outing.
That latter number hints at a creativity which has been – Antonio Cassano aside – lacking in the side this term and with FantAntonio hardly the fittest player in the squad, what better alternative for Stramaccioni than the player currently spending his match days modelling the latest club suit? Last season was far from his best since moving to the club yet looking at his statistics he was still highly influential in a campaign which was a collective failing by all concerned.
Only fifteen players in the league averaged better than Sneijder’s 7.3 WhoScored.com rating and three of those – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi – no longer ply their trade on the peninsula. It was the highest rating by any Inter player who is still with the team and is merely a small insight into quite how vital he was to the team even in such a disappointing campaign.
He scored just four league goals but reached exactly the same total in each of his two previous campaigns in Italy and led the team with five assists despite only featuring in 20 league games. He also took more shots per game than any Inter player (3.9 per game) while his 2.3 key passes per game was only bettered by seven players across the whole of Serie A.
Sneijder averaged 51.9 passes per game – good enough for 20th place in the league as well as being the best among all Inter players – at a completion rate of 82.5%; an incredibly high figure for a player in such an advanced and creative role. As if to further reinforce this point, all the Serie A players to have made more passes than him were central midfielders or defenders, positions from which there generally is far less pressure to make the right decision and pick out a team-mate.
Of course other clubs will now be circling, looking to see how the Dutchman’s qualities can improve their teams; something that Inter will want to make potential buyers aware of, especially if they try to drive down any potential transfer fee. Sneijder’s move to Inter saw Real Madrid recoup just over half the €27m they paid Ajax when signing him in 2007.
With three of Europe’s most grandiose club’s already on his CV, few would bet against him adding a fourth and, still just 28, he clearly has much left to offer. He is, after all, still just two years on from winning both Silver Ball and Bronze boot as he completed a remarkable 2010 by leading the Netherlands to the World Cup Final and helping Inter win every trophy available to them. “Life and football move on," he said when leaving the Spanish capital, so too it seems will Wesley Sneijder.