Saturday, Oct 25, 2014

FIFA World Cup: The second chance

Wesley Sneijder almost didn’t make the team for the 2014 Cup (Source: AP) Wesley Sneijder almost didn’t make the team for the 2014 Cup (Source: AP)
Written by Aditya Iyer | Sao Paulo | Posted: July 9, 2014 1:34 am | Updated: July 9, 2014 9:29 am

back.

That’s a 26-year old Sneijder for you, who once asked Holland goalkeeper Piet Velthuizen how much he earns at a crowded breakfast table. When he got the answer (Euro 400,000), Sneijder giggled and said: “Don’t you think it’s funny that I make 20 times as much as you?”

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He wasn’t much liked of course, not even by his own family after he stopped Real Madrid from negotiating a transfer to bring his younger brother Rodney on board.

Today, Rodney is slumming it out in the Dutch second division with an unknown club called Almere City FC. But Sneijder didn’t care. He was rich. He was brilliant. And he was about to take Holland where even the great Johan Cruyff hadn’t, all the way to the trophy.

Only, he didn’t. And a one-night dream turned into a four-year nightmare.

“That’s really the low point of my career — walking past the Cup and not holding it,” a far more sober Sneijder admitted, unable to wipe away his horrors from four years ago. “That’s my rockbottom, always will be.”

At this four-year long rockbottom, the man ‘greater than Leo Messi’ (as Jose Mourinho, Sneijder’s father-figure at Inter, constantly said) was banished to Galatasaray, was stripped off his Holland captaincy and nearly didn’t make the country’s 23-member squad cut for this campaign — leave alone featuring against Messi’s Argentina in the semi-final on Wednesday.

About six months ago, Holland coach Louis van Gaal told a local newspaper that he was far from pleased with Sneijder’s lack of fitness and uninspiring play in the Turkish league.

That stray comment pierced the walled city of Istanbul and Sneijder’s eardrums. He wasn’t happy of course, but the words held a mirror to his ageing face.

His reflection perhaps didn’t make him happy either, for he hired Gokhan Saki — the Dutch-Turkish kickboxer — as his personal trainer and chiselled his 30-year old body into a 20-year old mould.

“When he arrived at our training camp, he was in great physical shape,” said van Gaal. “I was surprised.” That wasn’t the only surprising factor for the coach and his team.

The new-look Sneijder had reformed his attitude as well, claiming he was ready to play any role in the side. So van Gaal gave him the one available post left in this team — that of a backroom leader.

Today, Arjen Robben makes play, van Persie calls the shots and Sneijder, sitting a lot deeper in the midfield than he did in the past, holds a young squad together. “He is one of our top leaders.

He always had the technique and today he has the attitude for it as well,” said the coach, lavishing praise. “Yes, and he can still score goals. That still doesn’t surprise me.”

Against Mexico in the Round of 16 game, Sneijder scored his only goal of the campaign so far — an 87th minute equaliser to keep Holland’s hopes in the World Cup alive.

“To make the difference with our team in the last 3 mins is fantastic,” he tweeted later. The moment Holland continued…

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