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The 8 lives of Rafael van der Vaart

The Dutch midfielder has been a lot of things during his career, but above all he was a great player

The 8 lives of Rafael van der Vaart The Dutch midfielder has been a lot of things during his career, but above all he was a great player

There are some players who remain impressed in the common imagination for the trophies they have won, for the cups and medals around the neck, for all the first places won; there are others, on the other hand, that have to make an extra effort to enter the legend, as their career is not studded with illustrious titles. This last category of players certainly includes Rafael van der Vaart, standard-bearer of an unfinished generation.

Born in Heemskerk on 11 February 1983, during his career he has dressed in important jerseys and played in some of the major European championships. As a young man, van der Vaart was considered one of the most crystalline talents of his generation: in 2003 he won the first edition of the European Golden Boy, overtaking Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney. The dazzling beginning of a career made up of too many shadows, interspersed however with very strong lights.

A long story, that of van der Vaart, which on balance seems to have lived more than one life, like cats. In the field his sinuous movements and his elusive touches made him look like a feline, so here he is, the old Dutch cat, who looks back at himself slyly, thinking back to the different chapters of his long and strange career.


#1 Life in a caravan

Rafael van der Vaart spends his childhood in a caravan park: his family does not have a home and moves (and lives) on a trailer, the young Dutch talent is practicing soccer on the street, and this has taught him to fight for to earn his space in the world (and, later, among the field holders). The Dutch, however, does not regret his past. Indeed, he says he enjoyed himself during that gypsy period of his. Once he became a professional footballer, van der Vaart bought a home for his parents. But some of his relatives still live in the caravan park, and he occasionally visits them.


#2 Life as a captain

Ajax does not take long to notice that young nomadic talent: van der Vaart joins the club's youth team at just 10 years old, while his official debut will come at the age of 17. The Dutchman at home wins practically everything you can win, and plays in a team full of talents, as almost always happens when talking about Ajax. A name on all: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Van der Vaart becomes the youngest captain in the history of the Lancers, he remains for 5 seasons in the first team and in the end he also makes the number 10 shirt. The world discovers a ductile, whimsical midfielder who exalts himself in the last thirty meters of field and manages to be decisive thanks to a shot with his golden left. Or to a scorpion shot.



#3 Life in Hamburg

After 117 appearances, 57 goals and 23 assists, on 1 June 2005 the experience of van der Vaart in Eredivise ended, with the midfielder moving to Hamburg. A rather peculiar passage, which also leaves Johan Cruijff, who at De Telegraaf declares: "I don't know what to say, I don't know why he went to Hamburg. It would have been unthinkable two years ago, evidently things did not go well for him". In fact, the Dutchman came from a season that wasn't exactly exciting, with lots of injuries (a constant in his career).

The impact of van der Vaart with the Bundesliga, however, is devastating: in 19 appearances the Dutch scores 9 goals and serves 5 assists, while in the Uefa Cup in 8 games he scores 5 times and collects another assist. Excellent numbers for a crystalline talent, who for three seasons stays in Germany enchanting and making the Hamburg fans dream big. Which then inevitably see him leave in the summer of 2008, destination Madrid.


#4 Life in Madrid

After a year of 21 goals and 16 assists, Real Madrid chose to focus on van der Vaart and reinvigorate the Dutch colony (Drenthe, Sneijder, Robben, Huntelaar, van Nistelrooy) which was so fashionable in the post-Galacticos and pre-Ronaldo period. In his first vintage in Blancos, the former Hamburg plays 32 games but often enters the bench, and after the hat-trick trimmed at Sporting Gijón (24 September 2008) he scores just another goal in the rest of the season.

There is a lot of competition, and as if that were not enough in the 2009 summer market, Kakà and Cristiano Ronaldo arrive. The space for him is further reduced, van der Vaart tries to show off but among all those samples it is not easy. At the end of the season Mourinho arrives on the Merengues bench, and the Portuguese is immediately clear with him: he does not see him as the owner. It's August 31, 2010, the career of Dutch talent is at a standstill, a shock is needed, a call is needed. Which arrives on time, directly from London.


#5 Life at Tottenham

"My agent called me to tell me that Tottenham was interested in getting me, I asked him if he could think about it, he replied that I had to decide within two hours. I started to evaluate everything, then I took a nap. I woke up at 5.45 pm and my lawyer called me on the phone to tell me what I had decided and without thinking too much I said yes, let's do it".

The van der Vaart cat awakens from the torpor of a half-sleepy career and finds himself in the field, with straight hair and a great desire to prove his worth in a context that can truly enhance him. Peter Crouch as an offensive terminal, the Dutch along with Luka Modric and Gareth Bale to support him: Harry Redknapp's Tottenham is the perfect machine to enhance the qualities of van der Vaart, which in fact leaves a lasting impression on White Hart Lane (28 goals and 12 assists in two years).


"Give Luka the ball, then Luka passes it to Rafa, then we win": from a speech by Harry Redknapp to the team


#6 Life after returning to Germany

Villas-Boas arrives at Tottenham, along with him there is also Gylfi Sigurðsson, who takes van der Vaart's place in the field. The Dutch decided to leave the Spurs and return to his second home, Hamburg. His career, however, from that moment on has lived a descending parable (first with the Betis jersey, not a 100% crazy choose but a chance so stay close to his granparents ,then with the Danish side of Midtjylland), which ended at Esbjerg, in Denmark too.

With his talent, probably van der Vaart could have played with important jerseys for several years and win even more. In his various lives, like a stubborn cat, he always tried to impose himself and make his way as a child, on the street. And it continues to do so today, even if in another sport.


#7 Life on darts

Some time ago the news that caused a sensation came out: van der Vaart decided to pursue a dart player career, self-nominating van der Dart. A few days ago his debut also arrived, complete with victory (and other word games).

We don't know how this new adventure will go, but in all probability the Dutch will be remembered more for his lives on the green rectangle than for his new adventure in the world of darts. Meanwhile, however, an orange curtain closed on his controversial footballing career.


#8 The orange life

A color that is neither yellow nor red remains, an eternal middle ground like a middle ground was van der Vaart, on the pitch and on the notebooks of coaches who struggled to understand (and therefore manage) their talent. Orange is also the color of his Netherlands, with which he took the field 109 times, scoring 25 goals. He never managed to win anything with Orange, despite an exceptional team that between 2008 and 2010 could have really taken away great satisfaction. In the end, however, van der Vaart is fine with that.

There is an orange cat that still roams the Beverwijk caravan park. The weather has turned a little gray, but if you look carefully into his eyes you can catch the same spark as always. You never lose that, wherever you go.

"I played and won with the clubs and the national team. I was able to face so many great champions, and take the field in the most beautiful stadiums. I never would have dreamed so much"