It's time for Inter to offload Sneijder
Two main things have stood out about Inter's Wesley Sneijder in the last couple of seasons: his numerous injuries and the way the sports media constantly link him with a move to Manchester United.
In the last week or so, both these subjects have once again hit the headlines - but now there is a third issue. Do Inter still actually need the services of the Netherlands international?
Sneijder is currently out of the squad with a thigh injury that will keep him on the sidelines for at least a month. However, during Inter's victory against in-form Fiorentina I started to ask myself whether or not he is as crucial to Inter's future as he once was.
He is a fantastic player, but for quite a while I've wondered whether he actually restricts the Inter squad when he's on the pitch. The first signs of this came last season when he returned from a long-term injury and, despite Inter being on a great run of form, Ranieri was forced to change his formation to include the returning Dutchman. This shift, as we all know, resulted in a run of losses that ultimately cost Ranieri his job.
I'm not saying Sneijder was the cause of these defeats, but his insistence on only playing as a trequartista limits what a coach can do with him. He also has a tendency to get frustrated if the majority of the forward balls aren't played through him which, given that his ability to spot key passes and create chances is second to none, is not always a bad thing. But sometimes there are better options, and he has to accept that.
His long shots and set-piece taking are obviously of huge benefit to the team but, with Stramaccioni now switching to a three-man defensive system, we need a player in the trequartista role that can offer the team more than Sneijder does.
Luckily for Inter, they have two fantastic attacking midfielders that do offer the things that Sneijder can't. Ricky Alvarez is the first. He is very similar to his Dutch team-mate, but the Argentinean has a few other useful qualities.
Like Sneijder, he has a great eye for making key passes and through-balls - but instead of being at his most comfortable in the centre of the pitch behind the strikers, he also likes to take the play out on the flanks, which enables him to cut back inside and/or use his technical skill to give more options in a counter-attacking situation.
One of my biggest annoyances with Sneijder has always been his reluctance to contribute to the defensive side of the game. Many times I've witnessed him watch the opposition take the ball past him and make no attempt at all to try to regain possession. This is where I feel Alvarez has an advantage over him. As well as being gifted as an attacking player, Ricky also loves to get stuck in and chase the ball back.
This makes him more versatile than Sneijder and means he doesn't have to be played in the hole behind the strikers and can play a much deeper role when needed. A few people criticise Alvarez for being too slow, but Sneijder is hardly renowned for his pace.
The second attacking midfielder - and the player I see as Sneijder's true heir in the Inter squad - is Phillipe Coutinho. At just 20 years old, he has all the good qualities of Sneijder and the attacking versatility of Ricky Alvarez, with a touch of Brazilian flair to potentially give Inter their very own Lionel Messi.
Ok, so not many players will ever be as great as Messi, but I believe Coutinho has the speed, the versatility and the eye for goal to become one of the best in the world.
Unlike Alvarez, his defending isn't a strong point, but he has limitless energy and will always chase the ball when Inter lose possession. With the young Brazilian's ability to play right across the pitch, he can always find space to receive the ball and his preference for short, controlled passing means he is less likely to lose possession during build up play.
He is still young and needs to mature as a player but Inter must keep faith and give him the playing time to help him make the most of his ability, while doing everything possible to keep him with the Nerazzurri for many years to come.
Like all Interisti, I appreciate everything Sneijder has done for Inter since he signed in 2009 but, with all the recent changes at the club, the amount of injuries he has suffered in the last 18 months and the emergence of Alvarez and Coutinho mean that, if a decent offer does arrive from Manchester United in January, Inter must offload their largest earner for the good of the club.