A key player in both Inter’s drive for the treble and his country’s run to the final of the 2010 world cup, Wes Sneijder is undoubtedly one of the great attacking midfielders of his generation. For the past two summers his name has been batted about the gossip columns as the potential successor to Paul Scholes at Old Trafford, and the solution to United’s creative gap in midfield.
This year things are different however and Sneijder no longer seems to be the obvious, logical recruit of choice to power the hear of Sir Alex’s next great rebuilding effort. With the new season cantering towards us at an ever pace, the rumour mill is in overdrive and the Sneijder-to-United transfer saga is about to reach its crescendo, but is he the player United need? Here are a number of reasons why he could be surplus to requirements at the theatre of dreams.
He would replace Wayne Rooney in the squad, not Paul Scholes
Sneijder is one of the world’s best operators in ‘the hole’ behind the forwards, a role that the young Scholes played to perfection. In his later years though Scholes dropped deeper, relying on his vision, passing and awareness to compensate for older, tired legs, becoming the round football equivalent of the quarter-back. He became the consummate deep-lying playmaker, succeeding at United where Juan Sebastian Veron did not, running games from behind the frontlines where his reading of the play made him a match winner.
Just as Scholes moved his game down field, Wayne Rooney has become the attacking dynamo to replace him and arguably United’s best and most important player. Whilst he was deadly playing as a striker in the 2009/10 season, his best position remains in ‘the hole’ where his hard working build up play, committed up field pressing and eye for the right pass make him even more dangerous to an opponent. If we bring Sneijder into the equation, Wayne will most probably have to be moved on up field and out of his strongest position. With Hernandez and Welbeck on hand to finish off any moves that come their way, it seems a waste to strip some of the dimensions from Rooney’s, especially when Berbatov already offers an option for ‘something different’ up top. As the team’s best player, Rooney should be play in his best position where he can deliver the most damage, so what if Sneijder were to operate a little deeper within the more traditional midfield two?
He isn’t the ‘midfield general’ the clichés, and United’s midfield, are crying out for
It’s strange seeing a Manchester United side so lacking in midfield considering the mid-pitch dynamos who’ve donned the red shirt over the years. A ‘midfield general’ is something of a cliché these days, but Roy Keane was the embodiment of such a player. Love him or loathe him for his personality, but as a footballer he was the ball-playing, play-making enforcer that set the tone of any match he played in, right at the heart of Manchester United’s engine room. He was a one-man powerhouse able to inspire and drive his team to truly great performances all the while dominating the opposition as both a bloody-minded marauder and an intelligent, skilful artisan, able to play some fantastic football.
Keane was the quintessential box-to-box midfield general, forever leading and driving forwards by passion and example. In my mind, the only player to come close to replicating his unique combination of ruthless, combative energy and tenacious intelligence since has been Owen Hargreaves; a player able to couple smarts, skill and steel, if not the domineering mentality that Keane possessed. His absence has been keenly felt for the last three seasons.
Last term, it was a rigid and functional Manchester United team that slogged it out to the league title and whose limitations and lack of enterprise were brutally illustrated by Barcelona in the Champions League final. It seemed United needed a new source of fresh ideas to add some artistry and magic to a seemingly workman-like squad. Fast forward to the present, and with the return of Tom Cleverley and the arrival of Ashley Young, free-flowing attacking play is back on the agenda and priorities have changed. With Hargreaves long gone, Fletcher ill and out of sorts and Anderson inconsistent, the question marks have shifted to team’s midfield guts where a supposed lack of traction and power threaten to undermine the newly fluid attacking play with insufficient foundations.
Sneijder has always been an offensive player, and whilst his passing and ball retention are both fantastic, it’s hard to say if he has the positional discipline, work rate or defensive capabilities to be an all action box-to-box midfielder like Roy Keane and Bryan Robson or lately Yaya Toure, Cesc Fabregas, Danielle De Rossi and so on. Sneijder could yet adapt his game to a more combative, all-rounder role the likes of which the current midfield at Old Trafford calls out for but perhaps more suitable candidates may lie just around the corner.
He’ll take away first time opportunities from exciting youth prospects
This could be Tom Cleverley’s breakthrough year. After impressive showings for Wigan whilst on loan last season, and in this summer’s pre-league warm up friendlies one can only hope some meaty first team opportunities will be made available to him as soon as possible. The signing of Sneijder would only cut such opportunities for the likes of Cleverley and other prospects such as Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba in the future.
He’ll cost a fortune both in terms of his transfer fee and wage demands, money which could be spent elsewhere
Why spend the purported £35m on Sneijder when similar figures could be used to plunder the likes of Arsenal? Whilst a cheeky bid for Cesc would more than likely be fruitless given that he only has eyes for Barca, bids in the region of what has supposedly been offered for Sneijder could turn the heads of the Arsenal board in exchange for Nasri or Wilshere. Wilshere especially would be worth the outlay for a player all set to become the next great English midfielder and possibly one of the players of his generation. Further a field; Marek Hamsik, Ganso and Eden Hazard have begun to deliver on the hype surrounding them whilst the likes of Stefen Defour and Miralem Pjanic could be potentially special players. £35m would most likely buy any of these players who, whilst maybe having not performed as consistently as Sneijder has over a number of seasons, have, in the case of Hamsik, already matched, and arguably surpassed, him this season. With youth on their side they could soon be leaving the Dutchman to eat dust.