Goal.com 50: Wesley Sneijder (1)

Meet the winner of the third ever Goal.com 50 award...
Welcome to the Goal.com 50! In this special series, Goal.com editors worldwide vote for the top 50 players of 2009-10. The countdown is now complete, and we reveal our winner...

As Wesley Sneijder boarded at Madrid's Barajas airport in August 2009, his mind must have been alive with conflicting thoughts as he headed for Milan. Were Madrid right to sell him? Was Inter the right move? How quickly could he live up to his price tag? What about his international career? Certainly Sneijder has always been a confident figure, but surely even he could not have imagined just how incredible his season was about to be. For he was about to become, in the view of the Goal.com editors, the best player in the world over the 2009-10 campaign.

That he did so after being hustled out of the door by Florentino Perez's new-look Real Madrid project was doubly impressive (and, one imagines, doubly satisfying). But there is no sign that Sneijder took any time to adjust to his new surroundings. He settled into the line-up in time for a 4-0 win over Milan in his very first competitive appearance for his new club, a mere two days after his arrival.

A month later he managed his first goal for Inter - a last-gasp winner against Udinese - but picked up a yellow card for diving. This was not to be the last of his disciplinary problems over the course of the year, but far more importantly it was a sign of things to come in a creative sense.

Indeed, by October he had well and truly clicked into gear. By this time Inter were in the midst of a run of six consecutive Serie A wins, and also looking good in the Champions League, wherein Sneijder's last-gasp strike at Dynamo Kiev saw them atop their group.

Red cards against Atalanta and Milan over the festive season dampened matters somewhat, but between these brushes with the authorities Sneijder put in one of his best-ever showings in Inter's 4-3 win over Siena.

As Goal.com's Max de Luca said in his player ratings: "The Dutchman pulled the strings in the final third once again for the Beneamata. Provided the pass that set up Milito’s goal and scored two himself from dead ball situations. Simply outstanding tonight." That was a nine-out-of-ten performance if ever there was one.

As February and March flowed on, the goals dried up for Sneijder, but this was less a sign of regression than it was of his settling into a more considered, creative role with the Nerazzurri. Consider the 2-1 win over Chelsea in the Champions League: he set up Diego Milito's goal and very nearly turned provider for Samuel Eto'o as well.

Then came the away leg, during which Inter had to avoid conceding. The best defence is offence, they say, and Sneijder proved that with an incredible performance, comprising excellent set-pieces, through balls, and first-time passes. It was his pass that set up Samuel Eto'o for the goal that put matters well and truly beyond Chelsea's reach. As Real Madrid stumbled out of the competition at this stage, they may well have wondered what they could have achieved with Wesley in the side.

As the end of the season approached the memorable performances just kept on coming. As Sneijder developed an understanding with Milito and Eto'o, he and the Argentine both found themselves on the scoresheet as they thrashed Barcelona 3-1 in the CL semis to book a date in the final. Meanwhile a 1-0 win over Roma on May 5 saw Sneijder lift the Coppa Italia, but in bittersweet circumstances, as he went off early on with an injury.

Still, within weeks Inter were deservedly league champions, and then came the test of the Champions League final. Here Sneijder earned a player rating of 8.5 - the second-best on the pitch, after only Diego Milito, who had a career-defining performance. Sneijder's showing set hearts racing in the Netherlands, where the World Cup was eagerly anticipated.

But again, few could have anticipated just how good Sneijder was to be. Ultimately he ended the tournament with five goals, but he will be remembered in particular for two scored against Brazil in the quarter-finals (of which only one was originally credited to him). Even a slow match against Japan brought a goal for him, but it's that Brazil game that will linger long in the memory with a truly influential performance.

Then came Uruguay in the semi-finals and another fine showing, including the Dutch side's second goal, before the showpiece final against Spain. This was ultimately a step too far, but Wesley still managed to put Arjen Robben through for what could have been the opener. Had that gone in, history could have been very different.

But aside from that moment of massive disappointment for the Dutch, Sneijder can look back on a fantastic season. Indeed, it was his best season to date - and the best of all across the world over the last year.

Congratulations to Wesley Sneijder
Winner of the Goal.com 50 2009-10