2010 World Cup Player Profile: Wesley Sneijder, Netherland's Midfield Marksman

Why You'll Like Him

His highs are natural, as he confessed to the Italian sports newspaper la Gazzetta: "Trying to kick better free kicks for me is like a kind of drug."

Why You'll Hate Him

It’s really irritating that his name disobeys the "i before e except after c" rule.

While young children tottering around a soccer pitch isn’t exactly an uncommon sight, Wesley Sneijder likely stood out from his peers. By the age of five he’d developed the ability to use both feet to move the ball, and by age seven the mighty Ajax had signed him to their youth academy. One imagines that older brother Jeffrey must’ve been a bit put out when Wesley followed him to Ajax, but the two brothers are quite close, speaking every day. Football runs in the family blood, with younger brother Rodney also find a spot with the Ajax academy.

It is no question, however, that Wesley is the undisputed football hero of the Sneijder family. Although clearly a natural talent, he’s also had to work hard to get to the top level. At age 14, Ajax had doubts about his physical development, but Sneijder trained extensively, staying after for optional extra practice and developing both technique and mental acumen.

At 5’7", the tiny midfielder defies expectations with demonstrated strength and impressive passing range. From Ajax to Real to Inter, Sneijder has been the designated free-kick taker for his club—incidently, the only time he favors his right foot.

Fact Sheet

Age: 25, but celebrates his 26th birthday on June 9.

Position: Midfielder

Club Teams: Inter Milan (August 2009-present), Real Madrid (August 2007-August 2009), Ajax (2002-2007)

National Team Debut: U-21 on March 28, 2003, capped for full Dutch squad on April 30, 2003.

Caps: 56

World Cup(s): 2006.

Club World

Brought up through the Ajax academy, Sneijder played for the first team for nearly five years. His time with the club showcased his brilliantly accurate passing and, of course, his deadly ability to shoot with both feet. In 2007, Real Madrid came calling, adding Sneijder to their collection of Dutch players for the nice low price of €27 million.

He made his La Liga debut in a derby match against Atlético Madrid, impressing his new fanbase by scoring the winner. He scored nine goals in his first season at Real and was rewarded in his next season when he was given the number 10 for his jersey, a fact so significant that Sneijder’s personal website devotes two paragraphs to the issue, while discussing nothing else about his time in Madrid—probably because the Dutchman wasn’t always the stand-out star at big name Real.

Inter Milan recognized his potential, however, snapping up Sneijder and making 2009-2010 his first year in Serie A. An impressive season, with Inter clinching the treble Saturday against Bayern Munich, was certainly helped along by Sneijder’s midfield mastery. His increased athleticism combined with his passing maneuvers designed to confuse a defense helped to bring in three trophies this year.

National Team

Sneijder made his first appearance for the Dutch national side at the age of 18 and scored his first goal for the Oranje against Moldova, in Euro 2004 qualification. With Wesley’s help, in the form of one goal and two assists, the Dutch beat Scotland 6-0, but were unable to progress past the semi-finals.

In the 2006 World Cup, Sneijder started all four games, but the Netherlands were knocked out in the second round, when a particularly ugly battle with Portugal resulted in 16 yellow cards and a 1-0 loss for the Oranje. Wesley’s best traits were not on display four years ago, however, as coach Marco van Basten had elected to use him as a defensive midfielder rather than allowing his attacking prowess to flourish.

Indeed it was at Euro 2008 when the world’s attention turned to Wesley Sneijder. His pace and stamina were evident as the Dutch pulled off a rare 3-0 victory over Italy, with his 17-second goal off the head of Dirk Kuyt creating quite a stir. He scored even more dramatically against France, with a 92nd minute strike from outside the box that smashed off the crossbar and buried itself in the back of the net. Although the Oranje exited Euro 2008 in the quarter-finals, Sneijder was honored on the Team of the Tournament.

What to Look For

You’ll be watching a more grown-up version of The Flying Dutchman than we’ve seen previously on the world stage. After the 2006 World Cup, Edwin van der Sar stated publicly that Sneijder needed to step forward and become a leader, words that Wes took to heart. He’s learned to control his temper and he’s learned not to dwell on his on-the-field mistakes. Even without a captain’s armband, he’ll be controlling the midfield game for the Oranje.

The Dutch, of course, are famous for their footballing style, known as Total Football. Within this system, positions are less important, and any player moving out of position is immediately replaced by a teammate, keeping the formation intact. Although the current Dutch squad does not practice Total Football as it was known in the 1970s, fluidity of movement and a fast pace are still necessary qualities. Sneijder’s creative abilities receive a nice shiny showcase in this style of play, and his quick, precise passes contribute to a polished side.

Watch for the ways that Sneijder will make a nuisance of himself against defenders. His two-footed abilities make him unpredictable, as he could just as easily cut left as cut right. Combine that with deadly accuracy, even outside the box, and this is a midfielder with the ability to send a chill down your spine. The Oranje are often one of the most exciting teams on the world stage, and with Sneijder in a starring role, even those of us in the Pacific time zone should be ecstatic about waking up at 4:30am to catch their first match.

Kirsten Schelwitz's early mornings with Sneijder come second only to Aston Villa, about whom she blogs at 7500 to Holte.

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