To a normal football audience, Inter signing Christian Eriksen wasn’t as special as it was for the nerazzurri faithful. From the outside, it was the exit of a potentially world-class player to a team that desires to win the first Scudetto in ten years. But to Inter fans, it was a special occasion. It was the homecoming of someone who reminds them of a certain Wesley Sneijder.
Antonio Conte’s men aren’t leading the Scudetto race. It is logically easier to bet on Lazio winning the league than Inter, because of Simone Inzaghi’s side being at the top of the league.
In fact, Juventus would also present an easier bet as they have a game in hand over the biancocelesti. Winning it would help them climb back to the top of the table once again, and many of the leading football match previews are backing the Old Lady to take three points.
And whether Eriksen plays a part in anything Inter do or not, many fans were gripped with nostalgia when the Dane arrived from Tottenham. Sure, you can place your football bet on Inter finishing wherever you think they will finish, but that feeling is what football is really about. That is the impact Sneijder left in their hearts back in the days.
The Ajax youth product had first joined a powerhouse club in Real Madrid back in 2007. It was the same summer when Real also brought in two other Dutch stars in Royston Drenthe and Arjen Robben. Call it misfortune or coincidence, none of the moves went down too well in history.
He did wear the number 23 jersey that David Beckham used to don. But it brought burden more than satisfaction. In as many as 66 appearances in all competitions for the Los Blancos, the Dutchman got 11 goals and as many assists. He was starring for the Dutch national side as well, having become a regular member of the team.
Real did win the La Liga in 2008 but they kicked into action in 2009 when Barcelona won the crown under Pep Guardiola. This led to them signing Kaka from AC Milan in the summer of 2009, leaving Sneijder sidelined because of their galactico approach. This left him to be someone who was surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu and forced Real’s hand into a sale.
His move to Inter came for just €15 million- a reflection of how his valuation in Real’s eyes had fallen too much because of Kaka. The man they were selling Sneijder to had his eyes firmly set on not just Real but Barcelona- the club that denied him the chance to be their manager. It was Jose Mourinho himself. He was a man on a mission in stopping Guardiola and Barcelona.
In Sneijder, Mourinho had a player who could defend and thrust balls forward to the likes of Diego Milito and Samuel Eto’o. He had the passing ability which could help them score and thrive in Mourinho’s direct style of play.
Luis Figo and Adriano left the club in 2009, leaving Sneijder with a first-team spot. Behind him, Mourinho had battling midfielders who would win the ball and recycle it forward. It helped in reducing some load from Sneijder’s shoulders. That was key to getting him to play at his best.
He could play only 1937 minutes of first-team football that season in Serie A, but Sneijder made an impact. He picked up as many as eight assists, also scoring four goals for Mourinho’s side. But it was in the Champions League that he made a real impact.
Mourinho knew what it takes to win the crown from his experience at Porto. He had the team which suited how he wanted the game to be played. There were a bunch of warriors in that team who would fight for the manager- like Mourinho wants.
Apart from winning the Serie A, Inter won the Champions League in memorable circumstances. Inter came out of a group involving Barca, Dynamo Kiev and Rubin Kazan and finished behind the Catalans. But after having knocked out Mourinho’s former club Chelsea and CSKA Moscow in the first two knockout stages, Guardiola stood in their way once again.
And what followed was Mourinho masterclass. The first leg at San Siro saw Inter win 3-1, with Sneijder getting a goal and an assist. It was typical Mourinho, as Inter defended deep and stout but tore Barca to shreds on the counter-attack.
The second-leg saw Inter ‘park the bus’ and defend their lead. It was what many would call a proper ‘lockdown’. Despite having Thiago Motta sent off, they kept Barca quiet and conceded only one goal. Mourinho, the man on the mission to oust Barca, had sought revenge. He did that in his own way.
Sneijder got an assist in a famous 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the final, helping Mourinho win his second Champions League crown. In total Sneijder got four goals and assists in the Champions League- higher than his league tally despite playing less than half the games.
Sneijder also took the Oranje to the FIFA World Cup final in 2010, only to see a familiar foe in Andres Iniesta break his heart. His impact though, saw him finish fourth in the Ballon D’or nominees in 2010. There is a popular opinion of many in the current generation that if Luka Modric won the accolade on the basis of trophies in 2018, Sneijder could have done the same in 2010.
That exactly shows what a player he had become at that point. He was probably the world’s best-attacking midfielder who despite, his small size, had the world-class ability to change games. His ambidextrous nature made him special.
The player that Real had sold for peanuts had made them regret it. A comparison can easily be drawn with Kaka, who never became the star Real wanted him to become at the Bernabeu. Mourinho himself could never make the Brazilian play at his peak at the club.
Sneijder had the work rate that Kaka didn’t have to thrive under Mourinho. Kaka was more of a flair player- the sort who would glide past people like he did against Manchester United in 2007. Mourinho’s system wouldn’t allow him to do that and he didn’t have the workhorse trait that Sneijder did.
Whether Eriksen goes on to do the same at Inter is anyone’s guess. But under a pragmatism like Conte, there is always a chance. He has the right personality to draw inspiration from.