There was only so long that Inter could convince us that Wesley Sneijder’s injury was taking time to rehab before they had to be truthful with the situation, if only for the sake of their medical staff, who were looking increasingly foolish as the story dragged on.
The truth, now that the renegotiation of his contract is out in the open, creates even more unanswered questions than before. The official line is that Inter want to reduce their wage bill, and as top earner, and the joint highest paid player in Italy at €6m per season, Sneijder must be the first to take a cut.
The move to cut wages makes perfect sense from the club’s point of view. Financially they are not in great shape and, like their city cousins, salaries is an area where cutbacks need to be made.
But their choice of player to start the operation – a 28-year-old international who is one of the best in the world, and at his peak in terms of age – is bizarre, and only leads to more rumours and hypotheses. The most popular of which is that Coach Andrea Stramaccioni no longer wants him at the club. It is not beyond the realms of possibility for that to be the case, but a number of factors do not quite fit.
Tactically, it has been difficult to work Sneijder into the team for some time. Numerous Coaches have had trouble finding a balance when Sneijder plays as a trequartista in a 4-3-1-2, as it leaves too many players contributing little defensively, and recreations of Jose Mourinho’s 4-2-3-1, with the Dutchman reprising his favoured role, have caused problems because they have been unable to convince the wide players to work in the way the Portuguese tactician convinced Samuel Eto’o and Goran Pandev.
Yet Stramaccioni’s 3-4-3-esque system, with Rodrigo Palacio and Antonio Cassano playing behind and generally around Diego Milito, appears to have two spots that Sneijder could fill without really affecting the balance of the team. Cassano is not known as a workhorse, and Palacio, although better in this regard, is hardly reaching Eto’o levels of defensive work and tracking. It seems strange to assert that the No 10 cannot fit in a system that is playing three forwards, two of whom have licence to roam, and that offer little coverage defensively.
The fact is nobody actually knows whether he can fit because he has not been given the chance. Inter first started a League game with a three-man defence against Chievo in September, coincidentally the game where Sneijder went off with injury and has not been seen in an Inter shirt since. So his chances in Stramaccioni’s new methodology have amounted to 26 minutes against the Verona outfit.
The idea that the team are worse off defensively is not backed up by numbers. Under Stramaccioni, Inter concede a goal every 67 minutes without Sneijder, compared to a goal every 61 minutes when Sneijder is on the pitch, a difference that is not large enough to warrant labelling him either way.
If Stramaccioni really believes he does not fit, then why not be decisive and make it clear he is for sale? If he genuinely does not want him, then leaving him out of squads, or on the bench, would send the message. He tried to claim that Sneijder’s absence has nothing to do with the contract situation, but it smacks of a Coach toeing the club line, especially given Cassano’s recent two game suspension.
This nonsense is designed to shovel the blame into the player’s camp – if he demands a transfer the club can always claim they wanted to keep him. It is no surprise that he has refused to sign the deal – no-one in his circumstances would. But now you have a situation where the club are determined to have him agree to reduced terms, and a player who will not even countenance the idea until he is back playing games.
There is no reason not to believe the official line, even if it is monstrously heavy-handed way of going about it, and a slightly flawed operation when your first attempt at implementing a structure is to reduce the wages of a star, as opposed to two 32+ year-old Argentines on more than €4m. But if the club are given a choice between keeping Sneijder on €6m a year or making cuts, a choice that it looks likely they will face, the latter will probably win out.