Interviewed by ‘FourFourTwo’ in May 2019, Rafael van der Vaart commented that,”I should not have left Tottenham, but AVB wasn’t the ideal coach for me.” Regardless of the recent success and advancement now being enjoyed under Mauricio Pochettino, it’s a sentiment that so many Spurs fans would sympathise with, as when van der Vaart was at Spurs, Dutch magic lived at White Hart Lane. A Maverick player is frequently idolised by fans which was certainly the case with van der Vaart at Tottenham.
As with so many transfers that prove to be prosperous, the move from Real Madrid to White Hart Lane, for so many fans, came out of the blue. At the moment, Jose Mourinho was at the helm of Los Blancos and had informed the Dutchman that, with Mesut Özil being his favorite choice for the’number ten’ role, there was little probability of much game time and a move may suit all parties. As the clock ticked away on Deadline Day, however, no news of any movement had attained the player and a season on the bench, at best, beckoned.
Late in the afternoon but a call from his attorney talked of an open doorway at Spurs, but it would need a fast decision. The player agreed and the deal was finished. Spurs compensated Madrid a #8million for a midfielder who, over two years with the club, would score 28 goals across all competitions, an exceptional strike rate for a midfield player, who would also contribute to so many more goals with his aids.
At the time, the club was under the managership of Harry Redknapp, a guy van der Vaart had wholesome praise for, “a magical guy – a father figure,” he disclosed in exactly the exact same interview. The Dutchman certainly initially responded with magic of his own on the field. Occasionally a flying start to a new club career can be deceiving, but not in this situation.
Three goals across four Premier League games, and a hit and an assist in a pair of Champions League encounters quickly convinced Spurs fans that the club had acquired a player of outstanding quality. It was an assessment van der Vaart would continue to highlight.
Frustratingly though, an injury meant a few weeks out of the game as fall turned to winter, but returning to the fray on Boxing Day, he netted both goals in a 1-2 victory at Villa Park to emphasise his value to a team containing the mercurial midfield qualities of Luka Modric. Another brace in April was even more valuable to the White Hart Lane lovers as they were scored against North London rivals Arsenal in a 3-3 draw. Strikingly, for a midfield player new to the rigours of Premier League soccer, he would finish the season as the club’s best marksman having netted 13 goals. He also added a further nine assists. Arguably, the Dutchman’s outstanding contribution to the cause was the prime reason for Spurs gaining a place in the Europa League.
As the new term began, he was quick to demonstrate that his debut season was no fluke. Scoring the second goal in a 3-1 victory against QPR, he’d netted six goals in just five league games and had scored in five consecutive games, equalling the club record of Teddy Sheringham.
More goals and success would follow, as well as some magical screens, with the Dutchman with that ability to often perform at his best when the opponents offered the sternest test. It drove forward but, equally, the growing reputation meant that other clubs had noticed and were paying close attention to the circumstance. At exactly the same time, a strange disquiet was also growing around the future of the supervisor, despite their early promise, Spurs faded in the tail-end of this season as any name aspirations slipped away.
With rumours abounding of a possible summer move, van der Vaart tried to quash such conjecture by announcing his happiness to stay in North London. Circumstances would take a hand, however. In summertime, after having taken the club to a fourth-place finish in the league — the second in three seasons — a spot that would ordinarily mean Champions League football, the club missed out as Chelsea refused them access by lifting the trophy with the big ears, and compelling their London rivals to compete in the Europa League instead.
Although entirely unrelated to events in the club, few would argue that unlucky relegation of Spurs into the lesser tournament as a side effect of Chelsea’s victory had no influence on the subsequent events at White Hart Lane. In June Redknapp left the club after apparently failing to agree terms on a new deal, and the club earned André Villas-Boas. New signings Mousa Dembélé and Clint Dempsey arrived from Fulham and Gylfi Sigurðsson was acquired from Swansea. It took little imagination to see that there was now a surfeit of options in midfield and that the new man had fresh ideas.
Van der Vaart had enjoyed an exceptional relationship with Redknapp, but under Villas-Boas there was never the exact same connection. Matters were not helped when the new manager told the Dutchman the Icelander is his preferred choice for the number ten function van der Vaart had excelled in during the previous season. It was the second time a manger had delivered such news and from there, a parting of the ways seemed inevitable to him.
The writing was on the wall in large bold letters. An offer to return to former club Hamburg appeared the ideal solution, and the Dutchman packed his bags for the Bundesliga.
It seemed a sad departure for a player that had excelled and excited in equal measure, and many would question whether the reduction of Redknapp and van der Vaart for the supposed update of Villas-Boas and Sigurðsson was really anything of the sort.