Sneijder on the brink of Grand Slam
After enjoying an unprecedented treble trophy success with Inter Milan last season, Netherlands playmaker Wesley Sneijder could now etch his name into the World Cup history books by becoming the first player to win a domestic league and cup, the European Cup and the biggest prize in international football all in the same year.
Sneijder was an instrumental figure in Inter's trophy-laden campaign and has pulled the strings for his country in South Africa, netting five goals to fire Bert van Marwijk's side into the final. Now, he stands on the brink of collecting a fourth major honour; scooping what could be described as the football version of golf's 'Grand Slam' - winning all four Major titles in a calendar year.
Sneijder's personal medal collection may be bulging, but translating club success into World Cup glory is not uncommon; down the years there have been a number of players who have enjoyed their annus mirabilis in a World Cup year. Back in 1934, World Cup winners Italy boasted four players from recently-crowned champions Juventus, including midfielder Giovanni Ferrari, an apparently lucky charm who repeated the feat four years later - lifting the Serie A title with new club Inter before retaining the Jules Rimet trophy with the Azzurri.
It has been the same with all but two World Cup-winning sides since; there are inevitably players from the country's domestic champions, because the cream of the crop are always likely to ply their trade with the nation's best sides. The only anomaly is France - who in 1998 won the World Cup without a single player from new champions Lens in their squad.
Winning a league title and World Cup in the same year are relatively commonplace, while several players have claimed a European Cup and World Cup double, including Christian Karembeu with Real Madrid and France in 1998 and Roberto Carlos with Real and Brazil in 2002. But when it comes to the Grand Slam, Sneijder must be warned, there have been several players who have come close but failed.
In 1986, Jorge Valdano scored four goals - including the second in the final - as Argentina won the World Cup, capping off a fantastic season with club side Real Madrid. The goal-hungry Valdano helped the Merengues take home the La Liga title for the first time in six years - finishing 11 points clear of Barcelona, and netted twice in the 5-1 UEFA Cup final victory over FC Koln. Three trophies in an impressive haul for Valdano, but the Copa del Rey was missing and the UEFA Cup just cannot compare to its more illustrious relative, the European Cup.
Six players were closer to achieving the Grand Slam in 1974, when Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Franz Beckenbauer, Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller won the Bundesliga title and European Cup with Bayern Munich, before forming the backbone of the West Germany side that emerged victorious at the World Cup on home soil. Bayern pair Breitner and Muller scored West Germany's two goals in the final defeat of Netherlands at their Olympistadion home, with der Bomber's winning strike making him the most prolific striker in World Cup history.
Defeat to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt in the German Cup semi-final robbed them of their Grand Slam hopes and they were denied the opportunity to add the European Super Cup or Intercontinental Cup to their collection after Bayern refused to compete for either trophy. Three winners' medals for the cabinet was an impressive achievement, but in terms of multiple trophies there are four players who really stand above the rest; 1962 was a pretty good year for Santos players Gilmar, Zito, Mauro Ramos and Pele.
The Brazilian quartet were an integral part of the Seleção's second World Cup triumph, with Gilmar keeping goal with aplomb, Mauro Ramos captaining the side, Zito scoring in the final and Pele being, well, Pele. The final victory over Czechoslovakia was certainly bittersweet for Pele as he was missing through injury, but the dominance of his club side Santos served to soften the blow of the absence.
Spearheaded by four of Brazil's World Cup winners, Santos' "Golden Generation" were imperious as they won the Paulista Championship and national Taca Brasil title - courtesy of a 5-0 demolition of Botafogo in the final. Two goals from Pele in the Copa Libertadores final saw victory at the expense of Uruguay's Penarol, while Santos' most notable accomplishment came in the Intercontinental Cup, when a Benfica side led by Eusebio were put to the sword. Pele netted five goals across the two legs including a hat-trick in Portugal as the reigning European champions were blown away 8-4 on aggregate.
While the Santos quartet claimed a quintuple of honours, Sneijder is capable of winning seven; a World Cup crown with Netherlands could potentially be followed up by triumphs in the Supercoppa Italiana, European Super Cup and Club World Cup. Should he win the World Cup Golden Boot as well, there will be no denying his place as the most decorated player ever in a calendar year.