Sneijder's development to lead Holland a lifetime in the making
Since Holland last played in a World Cup final, in 1978, only two players have won the Champions League, or European Cup, as it was known before 1993, and the World Cup in the same season:
He is also in the running to win the Golden Boot as the World Cup's top scorer, although he has had a bit of help from FIFA with that one: two of his five goals, against Brazil and Uruguay, deflected off opponents (
The only person likely to be unfazed by this proximity to legendary status is Sneidjer himself: he is known for his self-confidence, which came in part from holding his own in games of street football with kids aged 6 or 7 when he was just three. The line between confidence and arrogance, though, is a fine one: in one youth-team match, he was so outraged to start as a substitute that when he was sent on and scored, he turned and raised his middle finger at his coach.
Sneijder comes from a football family: his grandfather played for Velox, his father played semi-professionally and worked night-shifts so he could drive his three sons from their home in Utrecht to the Ajax academy every day.
Wesley is the middle child: the oldest, Jeffrey, played in the second division before injury ended his career, while the youngest, Rodney, is still at Ajax, and a Holland youth international.
Sneijder is the best example of an Ajax academy graduate and is the only player in South Africa as comfortable kicking with his left or right foot, a skill he learned at the age of 7 by juggling a small practice ball for two hours every night. "Kicking with my left or right is just the same to me," he said. He was a ball-boy at Ajax before he made his first-team debut, at 18, in February 2003.
"It was as if he had been playing in the first team for years already," his teammate at the time,
Sneijder's first chance to impress for the Oranje was in the second leg of the Euro 2004 qualifying playoff against Scotland. Holland had lost the first game 1-0, and under pressure from the media, coach
Sneijder learned the importance of keeping possession from
Sneijder had been an international for four years, but was still only 23 when Real Madrid signed him in the summer of 2007, giving him
But Real Madrid's early form soon sputtered, and when it did, Sneijder, the new boy, the latest hero, was first to take the flak. From being a $33 million bargain, suddenly he was overpriced, unable to cope with the pressure of life at Madrid, and seen as a luxury player. The Spanish press alleged that he was suffering from anxiety and visited a psychiatrist. In public, though, he always insisted he was confident in his abilities and had the support of coach
At Inter, Sneijder found a perfect home and coach in
Considering he did not want to go to Italy in the first place -- "I didn't like the football much and the stadiums are never really full," he said the decision has been an unqualified success. Mourinho deserves much of the credit: he sent regular text messages to Sneijder telling him how important he was to the team; often sat with Sneijder and his teammates on away trips; and, best of all, told him not to worry about defending. "At Inter, Wesley has the freedom to play as he likes and he has found the environment to express his potential," he said.
The same is true of this Holland side: while