Wesley Sneijder – Galatasaray’s Golden Orange
Yordy Yamali is a Turkish-Dutch writer who, as a fan of Ajax and Galatasaray, has found his dreamboat in Wesley Sneijder. Yamali has written the book ‘Wesley in Turkije, a correspondence of 25 letters and 24 replies of several Dutch writers (link: http://wesleyinturkije.com/bestel/) and is a regular on Dutch web-based TV Program FC Afkicken. You can follow him on Twitter: @TheFev
When Wesley Sneijder left Inter to sign for Galatasaray, it was seen as a last, moderately acceptable challenge for a once wonderful player to bring a gentle but rewarding end to his career. Two years into his Istanbul adventure, the creative midfielder signed a new contract that will see him remain a CimBom player until summer 2018.
Until 11 July 2010, the only setback Sneijder had experienced in his footballing life was a disappointing period at Real Madrid. Loved in Amsterdam and hailed in Milan, he won the Champions League in 2010 and added to that incredible year in the World Cup, only to see the campaign end in disaster in Johannesburg as a late winner from Andrés Iniesta sank Dutch hearts.
Deprived of his fourth trophy of the season, he encountered an unexpected and rare hurdle when he returned to Inter that summer. The Nerazzurri had lost José Mourinho to Sneijder’s former club Madrid. Without the Portuguese boss, Sneijder would never again shine for the Serie A club. A change in the style of play made it impossible for him to prove decisive for the team. As his form dipped, he soon had problems with returning injuries, but as one of the architects of the treble, Sneijder was awarded a lucrative contract. But when the performances disappointed and Inter developed more issues on and off the field, then president Massimo Moratti did everything to get rid of the Dutchman.
After returning from a horrible Euro 2012 campaign with Oranje, things got a bit out of hand. Sneijder was cut from the team without any reason and was put under serious pressure to find a new team immediately. Sneijder, as stubborn as he can be, rejected everything and just did what was asked of him without playing any games.
In the winter transfer window, the solution arrived. Ambitious Galatasaray chairman Ünal Aysal went to Milan to negotiate with Moratti. In the end, they shook hands over €7.5 million a transfer fee – a potential bargain. The Turkish supporters went crazy, leading to incredible scenes upon Sneijder’s arrival in Istanbul. As if this wasn’t enough, the chairman presented Didier Drogba as their new star striker.
The Galatasaray store sold record-breaking numbers of replica shirts. The supporters were in a state of disbelief. Everything the pair did was loudly applauded, even when they just laced their boots during the warming-up. Drogba had an amazing start, scoring only minutes after he was subbed on, in a game that was deadlocked at 0-0.
For Sneijder, the first few months were tougher. Coach Fatih Terim was not crazy about the Dutch No.10. He wouldn’t start the playmaker, but had legitimate reasons: Sneijder was short of match fitness and was carrying excess weight. However, the pressure from the supporters was too big to ignore and Sneijder eventually showed he was worth the wait. His first goal was a beautiful long-range stunner that would spark a Galatasaray comeback in the title race.
He stepped up to a new level in his first full season in Istanbul. The Utrecht-born player benefited from extra training and started the season in tip-top shape as he showed form that was reminiscent of his peak years. After winning the Turkish league twice in a row, 2013/14 turned out to be a more disappointing season for Gala, as Roberto Mancini took over from Terim. While away games were the side’s main Achilles heel, home matches remained a joy to watch. Sneijder ended up scoring a late winner against Juventus on a snowy pitch in Istanbul to send his side into the second round of the Champions League – an impressive feat in a group which also included Real Madrid and FC København. Sneijder also scored the winning goal against fierce rivals Fenerbahçe. In the last game of the season, the Turkish cup final, he would once again find the net to secure the trophy.
Oranje coach Louis van Gaal’s decision to strip Sneijder of the captaincy was a signal that he was not assured of a place in his starting XI, heaping further pressure on him. This only motivated the midfielder more. He made the final squad for the 2014 World Cup and was fitter than ever before. Often Sneijder covered the most ground during games in Brazil.
Once again he was close to success. However, this time the World Cup journey would end at the semi-final stage against Argentina. Messi & Co. proved to be better penalty takers, as is often the case for any opposing team of the Dutch in international tournaments. Sneijder would not dominate as he did back in 2010, but he wanted to show how fit he was, and ended up making many unnecessary sprints and forced himself to do things not necessary for such a player.
The 2014-15 season started off just as hectic as the previous one. Cesare Prandelli succeeded Mancini as the head coach and was not a great fit. After some horrible defeats, Hamza Hamzaoglu was brought in to replace the Italian. Although they were knocked out in the group stages of the Champions League, the former Turkey assistant coach turned a group of individuals into a team again. After almost single-handedly beating archrivals Fenerbahçe and Besiktas, their Dutch maestro showcased his amazing talent once again. It resulted in a consecutive domestic double for the Dutchman, a successful return from his two and a half year stay.
This summer was all about Sneijder’s contract extension. With a new chairman, who brought in a completely new board, it would end up as one of the worst transfer windows in Galatasaray’s history. Brazilian powerhouse and fan favorite Felipe Melo would be sold in the last seconds of the window. All that after seeing Portuguese prospect Bruma and Brazilian left-back Alex Telles leave on loan to Real Sociedad and Inter respectively. The fanatical supporters would not accept such key losses unless big improvements were being made. In response, Lukas Podolski was brought in from Arsenal and on the last day of the transfer window, Jason Denayer would join on loan from Manchester City.
The new signings were not enough to smooth over a turbulent summer for the club where, in the eyes of the fans, many mistakes were made and this was perhaps best illustrated by their comical pursuit of Kevin Großkreutz from Borussia Dortmund. In the end, paperwork arrived 48 second too late, meaning that the German is ineligible to wait until January, though he is property of the Turkish club.
After this disappointment, there was only one way for the chairman to get the fans onside: extending the contract of the Altin Portakal (Golden Orange). Yet it wasn’t until October that Sneijder delighted the fans by signing on the dotted line. During the ceremony, Sneijder revealed his intention of getting his coaching license and reiterated his desire to stay in Istanbul for years after his footballing career ends.
For years Galatasaray had been searching for a new Gheorghe Hagi, undoubtedly the best No.10 the Turkish giants ever had. With a son coming up and also set to be born in Istanbul, like the son of former Romanian midfielder, the only thing separating Sneijder and Hagi is a major European title.