Silly season may have ended for the common man but in football it has only just begun – the January transfer window. Football fans scramble onto sports websites examining the gossip columns and the transfer-watch pages in feverish anticipation that their team will pull off a major coup.
For the vast majority of teams, coups (of the transfer variety and not the kind which generally ends with military action) will not happen. The last time there was real action during the January window was two years ago in 2011, when Fernando Torres and Liverpool parted ways for a British record £50m fee. The Reds initially spent the money wisely signing Luis Suarez for £22m but then inexplicably had a moment of madness shortly before the transfer deadline by forking out £35m for Andy Carroll. Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, laughed all the way to the bank and Liverpool fans woke up to the news wondering what the beer monkey had done to the club’s owners.
Fast-forward to 2013 and there are rumours galore. Will he or won’t he? Will Theo Walcott sign a new contract? Who will Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha sign for? Is Harry Redknapp going to wheel ‘n deal his new employers out of relegation trouble? Further afar, there are question marks over Athletico Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente and Barcelona’s David Villa. These are all sporting algorithms containing ample ammunition for jovial discussions amongst fellow minded individuals across the globe. However, there is a far more interesting scenario, in that of Wesley Sneijder.
The 28 year-old Dutchman has found himself completely frozen out at Inter Milan following a contract dispute with the club. In 2010, Sneijder was the conductor of Jose Mourinho’s historic treble-winning Inter Milan side. His majestic form continued into the World Cup that year as he guided the Oranje to the final before being narrowly defeated by Spain (1-0 after extra-time).
A year later, Sneijder was close to joining Manchester United but the move failed to materialise. United’s rivals breathed a sigh of relief – such was the ex-Ajax and Real Madrid playmaker’s standing. Inter rewarded their talisman with a bumper new contract totalling €7m (£5.7m) per season but then UEFA followed the banking industry’s lead by introducing financial regulations into the game – in the form of Financial Fair Play.
In order to comply, Inter proposed a new contract for the Dutchman worth €4.5m (£3.6m) per season which was rejected. With both sides playing hardball, the relationship between player and club is beyond repair as the Sniper has not played for Inter since September despite being fit and, according to his colleagues, training well.
It is a precarious situation. Inter wish to sell to balance the books but have stubbornly refused to drop their £12m asking price, meanwhile the player’s representative have asked for a free transfer. Interestingly, Inter could in fact lose the player for free at the end of this season if he does not feature in 10% of the club’s official matches during the season (in accordance with Article 15 of the FIFA regulations). If this were to continue then Sneijder could terminate his contract with Inter at the end of the season.
The Italians only have themselves to blame. Attempting to effectively renege a player’s contract is largely unheard of. However, a £12m price tag for a decorated 28 year-old is hardly a ransom note. Take Wilfried Zaha as an example. He’s a Championship player with one international cap to his name – yet the initial outlay is the same. Obviously Zaha, at 20, is much younger and his contract would be significantly lower but Sneijder is already a world-class talent and should continue to be until his early thirties. Considering the gamble United took by parting with £24m for 29 year-old Robin Van Persie, clubs should be motivated by the impact the former Arsenal forward has had at United.
Sneijder himself says he’s waiting for a ‘top club’ to approach him. The question is, who can afford him? No Italian clubs can. Bayern Munich, a well-run outfit, already have high rollers in Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben on their payroll. The only options in Spain would be the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu but neither club has particular difficulty in finding the back of the net. Possibly Paris St Germain?
This then leaves the Premier League. The United boat has sailed; Manchester City need to offload first – problematic considering their obscenely high value playing contracts – and Chelsea; who do not need another play-maker – although Rafa Benitez does know Sneijder well following his brief stint in Milan.
Look further down the monetary food chain – Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool. Is it not worth these clubs taking a risk on Sneijder? Their top four aspirations would unquestionably improve. Looking at Spurs in particular, it would fill the void left by the departures of Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart. Furthermore, having the experience that the Inter Milan star offers would only benefit any club’s youngsters.
In light of the above, there should be options available for both the player and Inter Milan. With frantic activity likely behind the scenes amongst agents and potential suitors, the curious case of Wesley Sneijder as should be marked as a closed book sooner rather than later.