Rodney Sneijder: Dundee United signing has big name to live up to

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Dundee Utd's new signing Rodney Sneijder
Rodney Sneijder has joined Dundee United on a two-year deal

Rodney Sneijder has never been able to escape the shadow of his brother.

He broke through at Ajax and so began his career directly following the same path as sibling Wesley but the older brother has won the Champions League and played in the World Cup final while Rodney is now trying to rebuild his career at Tannadice.

When asked at his first press conference as a Dundee United player if he liked comparisons with the player who is six years his elder and has performed consistently at elite level, Rodney Sneijder simply responded: "No."

Exasperation is understandable, since the family background has been both a help and a hindrance to his development.

While playing for RKC Waalwijk, Rodney Sneijder was at a training camp in Turkey at the same time as rumours were linking his brother with a move from Inter Milan to Galatasaray.

Locals kept turning up and asking him about his brother, including female fans urging him to plead with his brother to make the move.

Wesley Sneijder lifted the Champions League under Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan in 2010
Wesley Sneijder lifted the Champions League under Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan in 2010

That kind of frantic, incessant exposure and interest has been something Rodney Sneijder has had to learn to cope with. The brothers both play in midfield, they are clever, technically sound players and are extremely close.

It would be in keeping with the affection and support between them if Wesley visited Tannadice to see Dundee United play on occasion, and Rodney is often seen in the stands at Galatasaray watching his brother while sitting with his sister-in-law.

Yet the legacy is in many ways impossible to live up to, since Wesley Sneijder is among that small group of players who could operate with brilliant individualism and influence at the very pinnacle of the game.

Many in Dutch football consider Rodney Sneijder a talented midfielder, only less gifted than his brother and so far lacking the mental strength, spirit and work-rate to succeed in the Eredivisie.

At the outset of his career, many fans and observers were intrigued to see how the latest member of the family would perform (the eldest of the three Sneijder brothers, Jeffrey, also started out at Ajax but his career was hindered by injury).

Rodney Sneijder was skilful, but just not to the same level as Wesley. At times in his career, there have also been doubts about his work off the ball, his defensive instincts and his ability to deal with set-backs or being left out of the starting line-up.

Rodney Sneijder (left) in action for Ajax
Rodney Sneijder (left) in action for Ajax

"Ajax had a lot of talents and he did not make the difference," said Voetbal International journalist Stef de Bont. "The two of them are really close and they look similar. But on the field there's a big difference.

"Wesley is world class, Rodney is more average. He never said it out loud, but it had a big impact on his career.

"In his time at Ajax and FC Utrecht [on loan], at first it was a help. He was a Sneijder, he had to be good so he got a contract. Later, when he didn't make it, there was the comparison."

Rodney Sneijder is only 24, but his career has been sporadic in terms of first-team football, with only 74 appearances in the past four years.

In 2013, he moved to Almere City, a club in the second tier of Dutch football, although his spells on loan at FC Utrecht - 23 games and three goals in 2011-12 - and his first season following a permanent move to RKC Waalwijk - 22 appearances and two goals in 2012-13 - were productive.

Erwin Koeman was the manager who took Sneijder to RKC Waalwijk, but despite starting brightly, the midfielder drifted out of the teamp and was never able to recover his previous status.

The move to United, then, is a form of career rehabilitation and Sneijder impressed enough as a trialist to persuade Tannadice manager Jackie McNamara to sign the player following recommendation from the player's agent, Pierre van Hooijdonk, a former Celtic team-mate of McNamara's.

Football agent Pierre van Hooijdonk
Van Hooijdonk played an important role in Sneijder's move to Tannadice

The move could work for both parties, since Van Hooijdonk was behind Nadir Ciftci's move to Dundee United, where the striker impressed enough to earn his move to Celtic this summer.

Sneijder has enough potential to be a productive signing but will need to show the mental strength to succeed in a football environment where spirit and assertiveness are commonplace.

The comparisons with Wesley Sneijder are inevitable but also worthless. Rodney Sneijder is making his own way in the game, and now needs to show that he can apply his talent and assert himself to forge his own career.

Moving away from the Netherlands to a club that will provide a platform for him to become a key player is an opportunity he needs to be ready to take.