In recent years, players with famous relatives have been nothing new for Holland’s Eredivisie. From Danny Blind’s son Daley to Dennis Bergkamp’s cousin Roland, from Edgar David’s cousin Lorenzo to Erik Willart’s nephew and Johan Neeskens’ son-in-law Ricky van Wolfswinkel, the sight of a famous surname or relation on a team-sheet is no longer a surprise.
Sometimes however the curiosity around the name is larger than the talent of the player; expectations are frequently dashed. But in the case of Rodney Sneijder, the brother of Inter star Wesley, this promises not to be the case. Recently the 20-year-old midfielder made his professional football debut, turning out for Utrecht in their 3-1 win over Roda Kerkarde.
Deployed as a left midfielder in Utrecht’s 4-3-3 system, Sneijder played a key role in the side’s success, scoring in the 60th minute; and this despite having landed at the Domestad just one week beforehand on a one-year loan from Ajax. His debut came eight years after that of his brother Wesley, who had booked a seat at the Galgenwaard to watch his younger sibling’s first steps into the professional game and leaped up when the net rippled. In a twist of fate, both brothers played under a Koeman in their respective debuts: Ronald was Ajax coach when Wesley faced Willem II, while Erwin is the current Utrecht boss.
Rodney Sneijder was born in Utrecht in 1991 and started to play his football with local side DOS before being scouted by Ajax – just like his older brothers, Jeffrey (now retired) and Wesley. “With DOS we played a friendly against Ajax F-junioren”, recalled the midfielder. “We won 7-3 and I scored five goals. At the end of the game, an Ajax scout asked me if I would join their youth academy. In the meantime I had just completed a two week trial with Feyenoord. However, I had no doubt about which club to choose.”
At the Ajax academy Sneijder quickly developed into one of the most promising talents on show. The midfielder won the national league with the B1 team, and then inked a three-year deal with the Dutch giants. “Of course, I have always been compared with Wesley, especially after he became a top player with Real Madrid, Inter and Holland”, commented the starlet.
“I am proud of him and for me Wesley is like a second father. However, I have my own identity and I have always tried to focus on my career. I don’t feel the pressure of having a famous brother.”
The younger Sneijder played under coach Frank de Boer with Ajax A1, settling into a spot as an attacking midfielder. Two years ago however, De Boer changed the Dutchman’s position on the pitch after rising star Christian Eriksen made his presence felt.
“Rodney is surely skilled”, said De Boer, “however, he has the tendency to do too much. He must learn he can’t provide an assist and shoot on goal every time he has the ball. You are not your brother I used to tell him. Focus on your abilities and on the best way to improve them.”
Last February, Sneijder signed a contract with Ajax running until 2013 and joined the Amsterdam side’s first team in the summer for pre-season – it was vital in helping De Boer decide whether the promising talent should remain at the champions for the whole season or head out on loan to gain further experience elsewhere. Mats Rits, Thulani Serero and Jody Lukoki were amongst those to stay, while Rodney Sneijder (Utrecht), Florian Jozefzoon (NAC Breda) and Geoffrey Castillion (RKC Waalwijck) were loaned out.
“I don’t mind that I played my first official game at 20”, said Sneijder. “I saw a lot of players make their debut at 17 and quickly head back to the bench, or even to the youth teams. I think I am physically and technically ready for the Eredivisie – I have to thank mister De Boer for this.
“At Ajax it would have been more difficult to show it because I was next to two great players like Theo Janssen and Christian Eriksen. This is the reason why I’m happy here at Utrecht. My dream is to play someday with my brother Wesley with Holland. I know I can only do it step by step.”
Despite the pressure of being compared to one of the greatest players in the world in his brother, Rodney Sneijder is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.