Wesley Sneijder says goodbye to Netherlands as one of the greatest ever
After helping Netherlands beat 2-1 Peru in the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, Wesley Sneijder spent part of his final evening on the international stage sat on a sofa with his wife (Yolanthe Sneijder-Cabau, who you may know from her role in the Michael Bay blockbuster "Pain & Gain") and kids in the middle of the pitch.
The Dutch FA had put a TV there in a mocked up living room. On the screen, his former managers Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, as well as former teammates Rafael van der Vaart, Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt said their goodbyes to him as he retired from the national team (though he will still continue to play for Al-Gharafa in Qatar.)
Then the people on the screen and the fans in the stands all started tapping their heads with their hands. Not because the stadium had collectively gone crazy (although Netherlands' recent performances and results would have given them reason to) but in tribute to Sneijder's winning header against Brazil in the quarterfinal of the 2010 World Cup.
According to Bert van Marwijk, his manager during that tournament, Sneijder is the greatest No. 10 Netherlands have ever had. Another great No. 10, Lionel Messi, ended up winning the 2010 FIFA Ballon d'Or, but according to many in Sneijder's home country the prize should have gone to him instead.
And they might have a point. Sneijder was one of the best players in Jose Mourinho's Treble winning Inter Milan side of 2009-10. He banged in eight goals in 41 appearances his first season in Serie A, and set strikers Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito up to score on a regular basis -- reason enough for Mourinho to hail him as one of his favourite players ever.
Indeed, if it wasn't for the toe of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas, which prevented Arjen Robben converting Sneijder's nifty through pass in the 2010 World Cup final, he would have been a World Cup winner as well. But nobody tapping their head in the Johan Cruyff Arena on Thursday wished to be reminded of that.
As Sneijder said goodbye, the focus is on the future. And, with Memphis Depay scoring twice against Peru and Ajax midfielder and debutant Frenkie de Jong providing an assist, the future is slowly starting to look a bit brighter for the Oranje.
Netherlands' second-half performance against Peru showed signs of progression towards that future. Able to withstand pressure at the back and move the ball forward, the Dutch seemed free of the anxiety that has impeded them so often in the past four years. At least a little bit.
Unfortunately for coach Ronald Koeman, no one at his disposal in the squad is anywhere near the level of Sneijder in his prime.
Depay, who should have (and may still) become the frontrunner of the generation supposed to replace the Holy Trinity of Sneijder, Robben and Robin van Persie, seems to be developing into a very valuable player. At Lyon he has scored four goals in 13 matches so far this season and impressed on Thursday night against Peru.
Between De Jong, who has been heavily linked to Barcelona, Matthijs de Ligt (a fellow youngster and centre-back for Ajax) and Depay, as well as more senior players like Virgil van Dijk and Daley Blind, Koeman seems to have decided on the backbone for a team which should be able to qualify for Euro 2020.
Confidence is still low in the Netherlands. The national team's complete and utter collapse after Van Gaal's departure in 2014 drained every drop of confidence out of the Oranje. But perhaps Sneijder's goodbye will help the Dutch realise that building for the future will require them to move away from the past and adapt to modernity.
With 134 caps (and 31 goals) -- Netherlands' all-time record international -- he will never be forgotten. The memories will live forever: The time he almost single-handedly destroyed Scotland in a qualification playoff match for Euro 2004 on his third cap; the header against Brazil; the role he played in the classic 5-1 win against Spain in 2014; and that year in which he was better than Messi ... at least for some of the season.