Who Is Better: Wesley Sneijder or Andrea Pirlo?

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Who Is Better: Wesley Sneijder or Andrea Pirlo?
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Two of the best players of their generation, both of which have been cornerstones for some of the best sides that European football has seen over the past two decades, internationally and domestically.

Andrea Pirlo and Wesley Sneijder have defined their respective positions during their careers and paved the way for many others to replicate their roles.

While both players cold be considered as playmakers, it is fair to state that they operate in different areas of the pitch.

Pirlo began his career with Brescia as a trequartista, playing in a similar vein to the way that Sneijder has done throughout his career.

It was Carlo Ancelotti who tweaked the 34-year-old's position at Milan though, redefining the role of the deep-lying centre-midfielder and potentially extending an illustrious career by many years given the relative lack of physical demands placed on him.

The fact that Pirlo is the player that springs to mind when thinking about the great Milan sides during the last decade is a tribute to the responsibility the Azzurri legend accepted during this era.

Capable of controlling the tempo of the game from the space in front of the back four, Pirlo was able to provide the platform for wonderful footballers such as Kaka and Clarence Seedorf to work their magic in the final third.

The majestic way in which Pirlo patrolled the pitch, swanning from one side to the other was deceptive, suggesting that Pirlo operated in a lazy manner.

The brain of Pirlo is one of the key parts to his success, thinking two steps or more ahead of the opposition and developing a picture of the way in which the game will unfold.

Pirlo will be strolling at one point, before sending a laser of a pass across half the length of the pitch in a second, supplying predatory strikers such as Andriy Shevchenko, Hernan Crespo or Filippo Inzaghi with perfectly weighted passes to expose the space in behind the opposition's defence.

Sneijder has been equally important throughout his career for his teams, most notably for Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan.

Sneijder, it would appear, was utilised in a different manner to Pirlo for the Nerazzurri, starting games as the central figure of an attacking trio that supported lone striker Diego Milito in a 4-2-3-1 system, which has subsequently become the preferred choice of most European sides today.

While Sneijder is commonly identified as a playmaker who enjoyed slipping short passes through narrow channels onto the onrushing Milito, Samuel Eto'o or Goran Pandev, or taking aim from range with his accurate long-distance shooting, there was another side to his game under Mourinho.

Unlike most players who play the No. 10 role in 4-2-3-1 systems today, Sneijder mixed up what he did when receiving the ball in the pocket of space in between the opponent's defence and midfield.

Rather than constantly looking to drive vertically towards goal on the half-turn, Sneijder could push the ball back towards his own goal, often dropping deep into his own half in order to turn and view the game in front of him.

Sneijder would split the doble cincousually Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso—before spraying laser-like passes to the channels for the Nerazzurri to expose the opposition so devastatingly in transitions.

Burak Kara/Getty Images

Those are the differences between the players in their roles during their most successful spells in their careers.

Similarities can be drawn from the success in which they control the dead-ball situations, both providing assists and scoring directly. 

Given that Pirlo has five years on Sneijder, it would be easy to pick him as a superior player to Sneijder.

But the Dutchman still has time to add more defining moments to his career, but it is more difficult when you have to prove yourself again in foreign leagues.

Pirlo was able to prove himself once again by moving to Juventus after his career with Milan came to an end, partly due to his reputation and the chance that he could continue to produce the quality that he has shown for the Rossoneri.

Sneijder, as a foreigner outside of the Eredivisie—a league that will not be able to offer Sneijder the chance to star for a Champions League-winning-calibre team—will find it more difficult to be handed that opportunity to be the centre-piece at a European superpower.

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

For now Pirlo has the edge over Sneijder, but if the Dutchman can transform Galatasaray from dominating domestic force, to a genuine contender in Europe, the argument will have to be reopened once more.

This year appears to offer Pirlo the greater chance of glory on the continental stage, with the Old Lady on the verge of becoming a serious contender to win their third European Cup.

Should that happen, Pirlo would enter the discussion of greatest-ever players, so the fact that Sneijder can merely be talked about in the same breath as the Italian is compliment enough.

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