DEBUTS: Wesley Sneijder

Written by: @LMiller2411

On the 73rd minute the fourth official raised his board aloft displaying numbers 10 and 14. Wesley Sneijder turned and embraced Muntari, double high-fived Diego Milito and ambled off the pitch. Rapturous applause could be heard from one half of San Siro for the little Dutchman, who turned to the Curva Nord and applauded back to show his appreciation. They had witnessed another Inter legend in the making. The final piece of Mourinho’s jigsaw fitted perfectly.

The game was over, Inter had thrashed their city rivals 4 – 0 with a performance that was a serious display of intent for the season ahead. However, even the wildest Interisti would never dream of what this team would go on to achieve.

Despite enjoying a lot of domestic success through the 2000’s, largely due to Juventus and Milan’s involvement in the Calciopoli scandal, Inter President Massimo Marotti decided to replace Roberto Mancini with Jose Mourinho, as head coach, for the 2008/09 season, with the ultimate goal of winning the Champion’s League. Like his father Angelo, who was President of the Grande Inter side that won the (then) European Cup in both 1964 and 1965.

However, Mourinho’s first season the club performed no better than it had under his predecessor. Inter regained the Scudetto, finishing 10 points ahead of Juve but were eliminated from the Champions League by Manchester United at the round of 16 and suffered a shock defeat to Sampdoria in Coppa Italia semi-final.

The 2009/10 season started with Inter’s star player since the Calciopoli and last seasons’ Capocannoniere, Zlatan Ibrahimović, leaving for Barcelona. The Swede was not only a goal scorer but a huge personality on and offer the field and would leave big boots to fill. The post-Ibra hangover was evident in the team’s struggles early on. Losing the Suppercoppa 2 – 1 to Lazio and only managing a draw to newly promoted Bari on the opening day.  Some suggested that any dreams Moratti had of winning the Champions League where sold the day Ibrahimović left for Spain.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, the towering Swede would go on to have a disappointing time in Catalonia and the team he left behind would enjoy unprecedented success. Sneijder slotted into that team perfectly. Nearly making the best start possible to his time in an Inter shirt, when after only 6 minutes his rasping 25-yard shot forced a world-class save out of Storari. Picking the ball up on the right, the ex-Madrid man thought about crossing it but instead slide the ball inside to Thiago Motta, who returned it with a delightful layoff that Sneijder struck first time.

The more the game went on, the more his presence grew, dropping deeper to pick up the ball before turning and spraying it into to the feet of the strikers on numerous occasions, without even lifting his head up. Displaying an almost telepathic understanding with the front two, as if they had played together for years.

Although of course they hadn’t played together, they hadn’t even had a full training session together. A major overhaul at Real Madrid that saw the arrivals of Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo amongst others, meant Sneijder’s place in the side was no longer guaranteed. While his time in the Spanish capital was on the whole a successful one, Madrid failed to replicate the title winning form of the previous year and ended the 08/09 season trophyless.

Massimo Marotti was more than happy to take the Dutchman off the hands of Los Bloncos and no sooner had Sneijder landed in Milan on Friday afternoon he was in the starting eleven in the Derby Della Madonnina on Saturday.

The 15-million-euro signing’s importance to the team was evident from the first minute. Sitting just behind the strikers as a trequartista he knitted together midfield and attack seamlessly, something that Inter struggled with first time out. Stankovic had occupied that position in the season opener against newly promoted Bari however the side struggled in a 1 – 1 draw. The lack of creativity was something of a worry and Inter only managing to score from the spot. Mourinho switched to a 4-2-4 in the second half and introduced Balotelli and Quaresma to give the side some width, with no spectacular result.

The arrival of Sneijder allowed Mourinho to play his desired 4-4-2 diamond and for Stankovic to drop into the base of the midfield, with the evergreen Javier Zanetti and another new signing Thiago Motta on either side. It was the Brazilian, Motta, who grabbed the first goal of the game when he finished off a fine passing move. Linking up with Eto’o and Milito with some quick passing, he then guided the ball past the Milan keeper.

Only 7 minutes later however, it was the beginning of the end for the Rossoneri. With 33 minutes gone Milan won a free kick, just inside the Inter half, that was easily headed clear into the path of Maicon and Inter could break. The Brazilian’s searching ball bypassed the entire Rossoneri team and Eto’o was free racing down on goal. The only way he could be stopped was with a trip from Gattuso in the Milan area. Milito emphatically smashed the resulting spot kick down the middle and gave Inter some breathing space.

The moment of madness happened soon after, Gattuso, having been booked for his foul on Eto’o, marched off the pitch signalling he needed to be substituted, only to find his replacement Seedorf still sitting with his trainers and bib on. With the former Inter player not ready to take the field the referee had no choice but to continue the game as it were. Only for Gattuso to be given his marching orders a matter of minutes later. Maicon intercepted Pato’s loose pass, powered past Ronaldinho into the midfield and dropped the ball off to Sneijder, who allowed the ball to roll across his body, to then be wiped out by the Milan captain. In a matter of minutes, the derby was over. While Gattuso was clearly at the heart of it all, it would be wrong to point all the blame at him. His frustration with his manager was clear to see when he left the field.

With the game over as a contest, Inter’s quality on the ball became clear to see. The numerical advantage in midfield allowed Sneijder, Motta and Stankovic to link up with ease, playing triangles around Ambrosini and then releasing El Tractor down the right who played it into the feet of Milito and after exchanging a number of 1-2’s with Maicon, the Brazilian fullback then continued into the box and smashed the ball into the bottom corner. His joy clear to see, leaping onto the San Siro dugout and celebrated with the fans. The Interisti were in dreamland.

The best goal of the game was saved until last, this time it was Stankovic’s turn, with a 35-yard thunderbolt into the top corner that no ‘keeper in the world could have saved. It was a masterful performance by Inter who had thumped their local rivals convincingly with a performance that would have sent shockwaves through Serie A.

10 minutes later Sneijder’s night would come to an end. While he would go on to have better games in a Nerazurri shirt, his quality was there to see. His vision and range of passing had Milan chasing the shadows of Eto’o and Milito all game. He had improved his side to no end.

Inter looked a complete team that played a wonderful tune, with Sneijder the metronome, who made it all tick. If you told any Inter fan that night that this side would go on to win il triplete in May, they would have said that the tune must have been a lullaby.

 

 

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