The next international game vs Peru has Sneijder’s farewell as the main theme. The new qualification series for the Euros is starting too, but all eyes and focus are on the little captain first. 34 year old and with 133 caps to his name, the former skipper looks back and looks forward from Qatar, his current home.
“I decided to go to Qatar also because of the World Cup coming here. Football is alive here and I enjoy exploring these types of countries. We loved living in Turkey, and we love it here. And when the World Cup comes, who knows, I hope to play some part. Maybe for Qatar, for the FIFA or maybe for Oranje. And until that time, I want to be an active player. Playing football is the best thing there is.”
Sneijder lives like a prince in Qatar. He describes his day. “In the morning, I am busy with my non football activities. I have a building company in Turkey, and we’re building apartments in Istanbul. In China I have SPort8, a youth academy company and I also have SportChain which is a crypto company. On Ibiza I own a restaurant and since this week I’m also ambassador for the Johan Cruyff Foundation. So, busy enough. Then it’s time for lunch and an afternoon nap and in the evening we have training. And when Yolanthe is here with our son we do fun things as a family. And hey, I know the stories, the big paychecks and what not, but I could have made more, much more, in China. But quality of life is important too. I don’t think I would have been happy in China. Life here is comfortable, hardly any crime, and I met a lot of cool new friends, locals and Dutch expats, all sorts. And Nigel de Jong and family lives here too of course.”
Last weekend, they played against each other, again. “We had our derbies in Milan and now here, hahaha. We beat him 4-0 but I decided to float a bit on the pitch as I didn’t want to get to near to him. I still have an Oranje match to play, hahaha.”
The matches in Doha are played before 100s of people, instead of 1000s. “It took some time to get used to, but like anything, you do get used to it. Playing before a full Bernabeu becomes normal and this becomes normal too. I think I prepared well mentally for this step and I enjoy myself. Just the training sessions alone and making fun with my team mates. I’m now at an age where I can support the coaching staff and I enjoy that.”
Wesley’s Favorite Coaches. “You won’t find Louis van Gaal in my top 3. Yes, he’s a great coach, just not my great coach, hahaha.”
#3 Danny Blind
“I worked with him at Ajax and Oranje, and I think the success we had in 2014 was partly his work. Van Gaal got the credits, but Danny was important with analysis, training sessions and he was a wonderful guy to work with. A special coach.”
#2 Henk ten Cate
“He’s also a friend. But objectively, he is a very tough task master. He’s tough, he’s disciplined, he sees the game. I had my best season under him at Ajax. I scored 18 goals. And I was a bit complacent but he got me really going. And when I was unfit in 2013, he came to Ibiza to work with me to get me fit. Henk was also the one to motivate me to work on my fitness. He called me Billy Bigmans (Big = Pig). Told me I was too fat for the top. He challenged me and I needed that.”
#1 Jose Mourinho
“We didn’t work together that long. My most successful period. He is the special one, but you need to work with him to understand this. He has skills no one else has. His management skills, with 23 egos, that process. He can manage that so well. To get everyone focused for the big objective. Tactically, he is also super strong.”
After his failed Nice adventure, Ajax or FC Utrecht could have been Wes’ new club. But it didn’t happen. “I get that. Utrecht was actually more interested than Ajax but I decided to stay longer abroad. I enjoy this life. I do follow the Eredivisie by the way. Every match. And Nigel and I were cheering last week when we watched Ajax play Dynamo Kiev. We’re on the coach, and cheering Ajax on. That was fun. And I think Ajax will be doing so well, with the likes of De Ligt and De Jong. These two will be key for Dutch football. Everything they do has a forward focus and purpose. This is a natural thing for them. And I love that, which Is why I love watching Man City and Barcelona too. And with Memphis in good form and Van Dijk and Wijnaldum at Liverpool I really think Oranje has turned a corner. And particularly with Ronald Koeman as coach. He’s pragmatic, he demands a lot but he also has that Barca / Cruyff DNA. He’s good in his communication too.”
Talking about Oranje, the high point of his career needs to mentioned. “I have had many. I personally think our football at the 2008 Euros, in the group stages, was the best we played. Van Basten and Van’t Schip just said: go out there and play! We didn’t do much in a tactical sense. And we played ever so well, until that terrible thing with Boulahrouz. My first match vs Scotland was special too of course. I scored my first goal in the first 15 minutes or so. But the real high point was the Brazil quarter finals in 2010. When we were 1-0 down. And it wasn’t so much my two goals in the second half. It was what happened in the dressing room. I surprised myself. I came in latest and the whole team was staring at the floor. And I was like: Hey! We can go home a bunch of losers, or we go back out there and play. And take the game to them. And hurt them. And that did something. The heads came up, other players chimed in and we went out and turned the game around.”
In 2014, Sneijder again plays a main part in the World Cup story but differently, with his love-hate relationship with Van Gaal. “I frequently thought, is this guy a genius or is he insane?”. I think he’s both now. Hahaha. When Van Gaal first started I told him: you’ll need me there. And he did. But he decided to push me and pester me to get me to react. One example. During the tournament, we were on our day off and some of us went to this lounge bar for some drinks. Nothing spectacular. We returned, precisely at 10pm as instructed. Who is in the hotel lobby? Van Gaal. And we walk past him and he starts barking at me. Only at me: “So, why did Sneijder have to go to that lounge bar?” And I was like: “We all went, why are you not asking them?”. And he said: “Because I want to know from you!!”. And I just said “goodnight” and walked off. The next day, I was really pissed off and I played another good game. And I think now he did it to get me worked up. We did well with him, but I won’t pick him as my favorite coach. My top 3: Jose Mourinho, Henk ten Cate and Danny Blind.”
“After the WC in Brazil I realised we were not fully focused. We lost away vs Iceland, 2-0 and I knew we were in trouble. Not because we lost. But the manner in which we lost. We were without a chance. I even considered quitting but that’s not me. I wanted to fight back. But we were going downhill. My biggest low point was the 4-0 loss vs France under Advocaat. He put me in a 3 man’s midfield as the playmaker vs Kante. And I thought… oh… that is not smart… But what do you do? I should have said “Dick, please put me on the bench, that is not ending well” but I didn’t. The coach needed me and I wanted to deliver. But I don’t blame Guus Hiddink and Danny Blind. I blame the many players who decided to skip qualification games, only to play for their club 3 days later! No I won’t mention names, the players know exactly who they are. They let the team down. Fuck off. Should I ever become part of the Oranje staff, those types will have a problem with me, that is not on. You need to be proud to play for your country! Danny Blind’s sacking really hurt me. He was a perfect coach. As assistant to Van Gaal he was so important and his influence was huge. A real expert and he didn’t deserve that mentality.”
“The last years, it felt like some internationals needed to be pushed to play for Oranje. I think now these changes, the new Zeist centre instead of the players’ hotel in Noordwijk…all good measures. When players can’t deal with the freedom you need to create a situation where the focus is fully on the game. And it’s really a big trap, players thinking they are the Man because they are big at their club… You have to demonstrate that in the national team!”
“Another key concept is sacrifice. In 2010, we all were focusing on getting the best out of it. And the benchwarmers did their job. Huntelaar, Elia, Van der Vaart, no one was negative. How this changed in 2012. We had more players with big reputations and they couldn’t accept that bench role anymore. And I realised vs Denmark, if we lose this match, it will be all over. And it is such a shame. Players simply don’t realise how special it is to play one great tournament. Just one already is amazing…”
“My future, well… I can say this: I would not be able to think of anything better to do than be involved with the national team. I would love to be an assistant coach for Oranje. Being with the lads, parting my knowledge, setting up training, just sharing my experiences, you know? I spoke about it with Koeman. We’ll see. For now, I’m still playing and I will most likely keep on playing for a while still. But I love that whole group process of having a goal and working towards it. Preparing for a World Cup for instance. It’s amazing. And I paid attention with all the coaches I had. And I realised, you can be the best tactician but if you can’t communicate, if you can’t motivate your players to do something, it doesn’t matter. Mourinho was the maestro. He was able to let you do things you thought you couldn’t. He had the backroom staff for the practices, and the physiological stuff and tactical analysis. He simply asked you to do things for him and you did. Eto’o, a super striker, he was a flank player under Mourinho, running up and down and defending and attacking… Incredible. But now, my future is the Peru game. One more time part of the group. Having fun, kicking a ball, goosebumps with the national anthem. And then I will be watching Oranje on the coach, with a Heineken! Enjoying myself.
Below, Wesley’s favorite team of players he once played with:
Ok guys: tell me your best Wesley Sneijder memory below!