x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Settled Sneijder comes out of shell

Wesley Sneijder held a surprise up his sleeve late on Saturday night. Sneijder is generally known neither for his over-emotional nature, nor as a headline-seeker.

Wesley Sneijder held a surprise up his sleeve late on Saturday night. It was not so much the goal, scored three minutes into stoppage time that returned the Italian champions, Inter Milan, to the summit of Serie A, but the misty-eyed comments he uttered afterwards. Sneijder is generally known neither for his over-emotional nature, nor as a headline-seeker. But once he had dedicated the match-winner against Udinese to his partner, Yolanthe, headlines were guaranteed.

"How romantic," thought Gazzetta dello Sport of the understated Sneijder's desire to make public how much he appreciated the Dutch model, Yolanthe Cabau van Kasbergen, who shares his private life. Evidently, Inter's goalscorer was feeling a flush of adrenalin. He hinted at how hard the summer had been for him, rejected by a Real Madrid who two years earlier had paid big money for his signature, for whom he had performed well, and who in August sought to push him out of the club to make way for Spain's new Galacticos. Inter had proved a far happier home, he said, and he was pleased to be there.

Jose Mourinho was equally happy, and, being Mourinho, made his own show of emotional release at the moment Sneijder turned a frustrating 1-1 score line against Udinese into a 2-1 win. On the touchline, the Inter head coach danced, pumping his arms and stuck out his tongue as if to taste the relief around the San Siro. Inter had had a bad week leading up to the weekend's triumph. Elsewhere, their luck turned too, with neither Sampdoria, who drew with Parma, nor Juventus, who lost their unbeaten record at Palermo, capable of removing the title-holders from top spot.

Sneijder gives Inter something unique, said Mourinho after the match: inventiveness between the lines of midfield and attack. He is certainly a better footballer than Madrid's posture towards him suggested. Nor will the club who sold him be that surprised to see him make an early impact in Serie A. Two years ago, he marked his La Liga debut with the winning goal in a Madrid derby, and accumulated a high strike-rate with his direct free-kicks.

Sneijder is 25, and might have achieved more had he not had frustrating periods of injury, notably last season. Established in the Holland team that qualified in style for the 2010 World Cup finals, he is two-footed, keen to shoot from all distances, and a subtle deliverer of a dead ball. He is also apparently fitting into the role of superstar a bit more readily than he used to. Yolanthe is a pin-up in the Netherlands.

Might they become the new Posh and Becks? one Italian chat show host wondered. Not if the original Posh and Becks have anything to do with it. As ever with the ultimate football superstar, there was something studied in the timing of Beckham's announcement on Sunday that he was "close to finalising" the deal that would see him going back to AC Milan as of January, once his commitments to US Major League Soccer were completed. Sneijder will have noted Beckham's declarations in particular. When Sneijder joined Real, he succeeded Beckham there, wore Beckham's former No 23 jersey and took over as a principal taker of free-kicks. Now they will be direct rivals in Milan.

The veteran Beckham "had such a great time with them that I always wanted to come back," he said. As he spoke, Milan themselves were about to make heavy weather of gaining a point at Atalanta, achieved only thanks to Ronaldinho's late goal. Much more of this from nervous, mid-table Milan and Beckham will be hailed as a saviour come the new year. He will enjoy that. ihawkey@thenational.ae