When the starting line ups are read out for the Champions League Final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich on the 22nd May, two names will stand out for me: Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Both players have been instrumental in their sides’ progress through to the final of Europe’s premier competition this season.
Sneijder, the central creative lynchpin of Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan, was man of the match for his performance in the second leg against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, after he played a tremendous through ball to Samuel Eto’o who sealed Carlo Ancelotti side’s fate in the competition. He then went on to score a free kick away to CSKA Moscow in the quarter final, before putting away a vital equaliser against Barcelona in the first leg of the semi at the San Siro. Robben meanwhile, has been ever more important to Bayern’s progress, firing in three crucial goals in the last three rounds of the competition. A screamer against Fiorentina in the last 16 was followed by a vital controlled volley at Old Trafford versus Manchester United, and then another fantastic shot in the first leg of the semi-final against Lyon, settling the home tie and giving the German team a good platform to go with to France.
The real gutting thing for Liverpool fans though is that both were available at relatively low prices last summer as Real Madrid began a clear-out of players to make way for their two world record signings Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. Robben was sold for £20million to Bayern while Sneijder was sold to Inter for £12million. Before you say that Liverpool couldn’t afford them, you only have to look at the sale of Xabi Alonso for £30million to Real Madrid for that argument to be countered. There was certainly a possibility of asking for those two players in exchange for Alonso, pushing the value of the deal up to £32-33million. Considering Benitez was demanding £35million for Xabi initially, the offer would have been a fair compromise.
For me, there are questions to be asked as to why no such deal was considered, I for one really felt at the time it would have been a good move to make but no such exchange materialised. So why wasn’t it considered? There are many possibilities centred around both financial and footballing reasons. If we start with the footballing ones initially, it could have been the case that Rafa didn’t fancy either player. Robben has had a history of injuries which may have made him a wasted signing, as well as the fact the Dutch winger does tend to disregard his defensive responsibilities at times, which certainly wouldn’t be to the liking of the Spanish manager. In regards to Sneijder, Rafa may have not been too keen on him because the Dutch midfielder likes to play in a more advanced role than Alonso used to and the defensive aspects to his game are not fantastically high. There is of course the likelihood that one, or even both, would not have wanted to join Liverpool anyway which would make the above points irrelevant.
Now we come probably to a more likely answer as to why no such exchange took place. It is generally assumed that Rafa didn’t get all of the £30million back from the Alonso transfer to spend on new signings, and the £20million spent on Alberto Aquilani has been broken up into instalments with an initial £5million fee. There is then a big possibility that the club needed money from the transfer and that a mere exchange of players would not have been possible. The net spend of £4.95million last summer tends to suggest that this could be the case.
In any event, no matter the reasons, I’m still thinking of what might have been if both Sneijder and Robben were at the club this season. It certainly would have been a different campaign. Whether both players would have fitted in to the system at Anfield is another question, but it would have been fun finding out.
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