Is the timing right for a move to Manchester?
Inter Milan midfielder Wesley Sneijder will have alerted both Manchester City and Manchester United over the past month or so due to a headline-grabbing contractual stand-off with his club, and with both top flight teams being credited with serious interest in the past, is the timing right for the Netherlands international to move to either of England’s top two?
The crux of the issue is that the Italian club want the 28-year-old to take approximately a 30% pay cut on his €6 million-a-year after tax annual salary, currently the highest at both Inter and in the entire Serie A. The club are prepared to honour his existing deal but they would like to restructure it, paying him what he is due between now and 2015 in 2017 instead, so he will eventually get the full amount he is due, but simultaneously have to commit himself to the club for longer for less, hence the problem.
The club have recently set about slashing the wage bill, which includes the departures of Maicon, Julio Cesar and Lucio, with Sneijder the next on the list culminating in a systematic dismantling of their 2010 Champions League winning team. They’ve already saved roughly €50m-a-year in wages, but their stance on Sneijder is questionable to say the least in its legality, in their attempt to strong-arm him into signing a new deal and relationships between the two parties have deteriorated to such an extent that he’s becoming increasingly ostracised at the San Siro, having been left out of the squad for the club’s 1-0 win over Palermo after contract talks broke down.
“In these conditions, I have absolutely no reason to sign. I don’t want to talk. How can I extend my contract when I’m not even playing,” Sneijder reasonably offered in a statement to the la Gazzetta dello sport, while his agent Soren Lerby explained: “As long as there is uncertitude about the future of Wesley at Inter, we have no reasons to think about a new contract.”
The pressure is thought to be coming solely from club president Massimo Moratti, with manager Andrea Stramaccioni heavily influenced and convinced to toe the party line up until now. By trying to force Sneijder into signing a new deal for the same amount of money but for longer, the club have angered professional footballers’ trade union, FIFPro, who recently stated in an article: “Inter has demanded that the Dutch international extend his contract until 2016, but then for exactly the same total salary. In other words, to work a year longer without receiving any salary for it.”
This not only has the potential to get very ugly, but it looks as if it’s hurtling towards an unavoidable impasse and Inter could be forced to sell even thought they don’t particularly want to just as a face-saving measure. United boss Sir Alex Ferguson reportedly came close to agreeing a deal for the playmaker back in the summer of 2011, but baulked at his €35m (£28.2m) valuation and wage demands. Sneijder is likely to be worth less than half of that figure now, with his stock significantly lower after his poor form and fitness issues this past year and the club’s bargaining position at an all-time low, but do they still need him at Old Trafford?
It’s got to the point where any midfielder who has enjoyed a spell of good form across Europe in the past few seasons has been confidently hailed as the ‘missing link’ to the club’s midfield issues, even if the direction of this link has often been left open to interpretation, with many claiming the team needs a recognised holding man, while others feel they require a link between midfield and attack.
The club’s summer transfer business of bringing in both Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie would appear to end any such talk, but with Ferguson telling reporters after they beat Sunderland 3-1 at home at the weekend: “Sometimes they still don’t pick out Robin van Persie’s runs as well as they should,” it all pointed to a growing frustration felt by the 70-year-old that the side aren’t quite utilising their talisman up front as well as they should; could a reunion with his international team-mate be just what is required?
Ferguson has shown in the past with moves for Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic that he;s not frightened of dipping his toe into the market in January, and the thought of tying up a bargain and pipping their local rivals to the signature, all while sitting pretty at the top of the table may prove too tempting to turn down. They already have a top-heavy squad, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s still a feeling that they could be better and haven’t quite got out of second gear, despite their place at the summit of the table, even if there is no pressing need for him in the side.
The motivation on City’s behalf is certainly a lot clearer, though, and the team need to provide some help to David Silva in the creativity department sooner rather than later, with Samir Nasri’s form horrendous since April last year, having gone on to pick up just one assist and one goal apiece since then, while Scott Sinclair has struggled for playing time.
Roberto Mancini was continually frustrated in his attempts to improve the team’s first eleven in the summer by football administrator Brian Marwood, which has since seen him replaced by new director of football Txiki Begiristain, formerly of Barcelona. Instead, the Italian coach simply had to settle for a strengthening of the squad’s depth, but they look as if they have stalled to an extent this season, not only abroad, but with their patchy form domestically and Sneijder could provide a timely boost to the side for the remainder of the campaign, particularly in the wake of the loss of Yaya Toure to the African Cup of Nations.
It looks as if Sneijder is moving ever-closer to the exit door, with both AC Milan (the player’s reported preference) and Anzhi Makhachkala mentioned as options, but should either Manchester club move for him, they’ll be getting a player of truly world-class proportions if they can keep him fit; whether United need him though is open for debate, but he could be just the shot in the arm that City’s stuttering side need if they want to close the six-point gap at the top of the league and retain their Premier League crown this term.