Even at the age of 36, Wesley Sneijder still feels he has a point to prove.
The Dutch international, who hung up his boots last year, is taking them down from their peg and dusting them off in a bid to live out one final hurrah with his hometown club FC Utrecht.
It is a road to redemption that will begin with training sessions at DOS Holland Stichtse Boys, or DHSC for short, and that will end, he hopes, with a swansong in Holland’s top flight, and a chance to showcase his undoubted talents one last time.
Wesley Sneijder is planning a sensational return to professional football after retiring
That he is not yet prepared to let go of his career speaks much to a feeling that there is something unfulfilled. A feeling the player has spoken openly about after taking time to reflect following his retirement.
For all the accolades he received as a player – from LaLiga titles, to Champions League winner’s medals – there is a sense of regret, that talent has been wasted.
For a player once talked about as a serious upgrade on David Beckham at Real Madrid, a season spent in the obscurity of Qatar with Al-Gharafa did not seem to be the logical conclusion to a career that promised so much.
That it ended that way was largely down to a self-professed rock-‘n-roll lifestyle, a penchant for enjoying the nightlife of the cities he stayed in and a taste for drink that even his team-mates warned was far from healthy.
A lifestyle that has also cost him his two marriages, to Ramona Streekstra and Yolanthe Cabau.
Sneijder hung up his boots in 2019 after a short spell with Qatari outfit Al Gharafa
The release of his biography has forced Sneijder to address these issues head on, and with the soul-searching has come the conclusion that he has yet to finish delivering on his early promise.
That promise was clear from the outset, as he turned heads at Ajax, where he began his youth career in 1991.
International recognition followed, as did Dutch Cups and league titles, enough to capture the attention of Europe’s biggest club.
Real Madrid swooped in to seal an £18.3million deal in 2007, taking him to the Bernabeu at the age of 23.
He was seen as an automatic replacement for David Beckham, an upgrade, in fact according to then boss Bernd Schuster.
‘Beckham was a right winger more than anything else, and Sneijder, despite the fact that he has a similar touch on the ball to the Englishman, can cover more ground,’ enthused the German.
Even rivals were begrudgingly impressed. His fellow countryman Frank Rijkaard put team colours aside to give his own honest assessment.
‘He plays well with both feet, he can play as a midfielder or in an attacking central role, he has a good mentality and the character of a winner,’ said the Barcelona boss.
There were three goals in his first two games and initial excitement that Real had captured one of the most influential players of a generation.
But off the pitch, all was not quite as serene. A liking to late nights and…