Kick-boxer knocks Sneijder into shapeComment on this story
Rotterdam, Netherlands - Wesley Sneijder is back from the World Cup wilderness and he may have to thank world heavyweight kick-boxing champion Gokhan Saki for rescuing him.
Less than a year ago, Sneijder was dropped by Dutch coach Louis van Gaal. A few weeks ago doubts were being raised whether the temperamental but brilliant midfielder would be on the plane to Brazil.
But the 29-year-old member of the team that reached the 2010 World Cup final is back in fighting shape and back in van Gaal's good books.
Sneijder, who plays for Galatasaray in Turkey, was depressed and out of shape when he turned to Saki to get back to World Cup fitness.
The 103 kilogramme (227 pound) Dutch-Turkish fighter imposed a near military training routine in between his fights on kickboxing's Glory World Series.
Saki dwarfs his illustrious pupil who was in the front row of at least one of the fighter's Istanbul bouts this year.
“Thanks to him, I got back to my optimal weight, like when I was 22-years-old,” said former Ajax, Real Madrid and Inter Milan star Sneijder.
“In terms of footwork and agility, I am back to my old level.”
The difference was noted at the Netherlands World Cup training camp in Portugal this week.
Now van Gaal calls Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben one of the world's best strike forces.
But the footballer also praises the coach for making him get back to work even though relations between the two have never been easy.
Van Gaal has been a frequent critic of Sneijder.
When he returned for a second spell as national coach in 2012, van Gaal took away the captain's armband from Sneijder and handed it to van Persie and Robben.
Sneijder was outraged. Van Gaal said it was a because the player had moved to Turkey, away from Western Europe's star leagues.
“I cannot understand why a player under 30 and of his calibre would make such a choice,” van Gaal said at the time.
Sneijder's performances for Galatasaray were also unpredictable and in mid-2013, van Gaal dropped him from the national squad for a series of friendlies.
“Wesley is more present at the gala parties than in the opposition half,” van Gaal said in a jibe at Sneijder's physical condition at the time.
Even one month ago, some Dutch media were questioning whether Sneijder Ä who in 2010 was in the team that reached the World Cup final and won the Champions League with Inter Milan Ä would make the World Cup squad.
But Sneijder had already started with Saki by then. “I had got back to work,” he said recently.
“With hindsight I can see that Louis van Gaal was right. I was not working enough. My level had gone down.”
At the start of May, van Gaal welcomed the progress made by his star midfielder but added that “Sneijder must prove that he can again be the superb player he was in 2010.”
The training camp in Portugal seems to have convinced the arch-disciplinarian, who will head for Manchester United after the World Cup.
Ready to work, sharp on the ball, Sneijder won praise from his boss this week. The old Wesley Sneijder is back.
“I read that it was thanks to me, but its really thanks to him,” said van Gaal.
“If he keeps this form, he can bring a lot to the team. With him, Robben and van Persie, the Netherlands has one of the best potential strike forces in the world.”
Some media reports say that van Gaal would like to take Sneijder with him to Manchester. Relations may be better but Sneijder says he is not ready for that yet.