The span is 67 days. Coppa Italia, Serie A title, Champions League trophy and now the last one for the set. No footballer can have been decorated as fast as Wesley Sneijder of Internazionale and Holland. Uruguay and Germany or Spain stand between the Dutch No10 and a quartet of prizes that would remove the right of all elite players to traipse home from tournaments moaning they were tired.
Sneijder is the last man standing from the Inter side that José Mourinho coaxed to victory over Bayern Munich in Madrid, six days after wrapping up the Italian league title and 17 after their domestic cup win. The Brazilians Júlio César, Maicon and Lúcio have already fallen in South Africa. So, too, the Argentinians Walter Samuel and Diego Milito. Others from the Mourinho Invincibles – Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso – were left at home. Of the starting XI in Madrid only Sneijder survives to pursue the sweep.
The best part for this World Cup is that Sneijder has propelled himself to this tantalising point from the hardest of positions: that of playmaker, creator, link-man – purportedly an endangered species in the age of the swarm-midfield. Classic No10s are a sporadic presence these days but have asserted themselves here in Africa, where Sneijder has been joined by Germany's Mesut Ozil and Japan's Keisuke Honda. Kaká, the most distinguished orchestrator since Zinedine Zidane, turned out for Brazil with an injured thigh and is now losing the pack-leader's role to Sneijder.
The grander Dutch aim is to emulate the Total Football generation of 1974-78 and reach the final and, while academics detect a shedding of ingenuity in favour of un-Dutch defensive caution, Sneijder, Arjen Robben and the underperforming Robin van Persie are an artistic trio most countries would be proud to deploy.
For Sneijder this climax comes with a healthy slap of vindication. His ¤27m move to Real Madrid was a dead end but Mourinho put him straight back on the path to immortality. Twenty-four hours after arriving in Milan in August of last year he helped Inter crush their city rivals and in 40 subsequent appearances he kept the imagination alive in Inter's cunning brain. France Football wrote: "This year he has transformed everything he has touched into gold."
In this World Cup he scored against Japan and Slovakia and was credited with both Dutchgoals in the felling of Brazil. The first was a free-kick which Felipe Melo glanced into his own net and the second brought a new part of Sneijder's anatomy into play. "It was my first headed goal – and I don't think it will happen again," he said. "But it was great. It just slipped off my bald head and went into the net."
Sneijder says of the half-time debrief in that quarter-final victory: "We said to each other, this may be our last 45 minutes at this World Cup. Let's give everything." In his demeanour now is a toughness common to players coached by Mourinho. There is no juice in the rumour that he will follow his old leader back to Madrid for a second spell. His supermodel girlfriend, who goes by the elaborate monicker of Yolanthe Cabau van Kasbergen, is said to be entrenched in Milan.
"I'm ready to do it all over again next year, but first I need to focus on this World Cup," he says. Rafa Benítez, who must fear an exodus of Inter's idols, will be ecstatic to hear this affirmation of loyalty from his most cultured player. But the new manager will have lowered expectations in the first few Serie A games. When the adrenaline of this 67-day rampage wears off Sneijder's aura is bound to deflate for longer than the summer average.
Europe's Treble winners prior to Inter were Celtic (1967), Ajax (1972), PSV Eindhoven (1988), Manchester United (1999) and Barcelona (2009). None was in a World Cup year. The strongest echo is from Sneijder's homeland, where Hans van Breukelen, Ronald Koeman, Berry van Aerle and Gerald Vanenburg won the Dutch Treble with PSV and went on to win the 1988 European Championship.
"Wesley Sneijder is proving to be very fit, very sharp, and he trained at 100% from day one," Bert van Marwijk, the Holland coach, says. "He came here after the European Cup final having won that. Two others in our squad had lost that game [Bayern's Robben and Mark van Bommel] but they've all dealt with it very well. They all made jokes about that at the beginning."
Sneijder's widest grin could be five days away. © Guardian News and Media 2010