ENG - AJAX
The Amsterdam team named after the Greek god Ajax truly lives up to its legendary name, featuring on a very short list of the greatest clubs in the world. Equally mythological is the club’s famous and fervent fan base. These Ajax fans have a famous chant, “Ajacied ben je niet voor even ... Ajacied ben je voor je hele leven!”, which translates as ‘you’re not an Ajax player for a moment of time, but for a lifetime’. As much as the fans sing this praise to the entire team, there a some players who occupy a very special place in the hearts of the supporters. Michels, Cruijff, Neeskens, Swart, Keizer, Kluivert, van der Sar, Blind, Rijkaard, Bergkamp, van Basten, Litmanen, Ibrahimovic, Suarez, Sneijder, Davids, de Boer. Players forever enshrined in club mythology. And without a doubt, that list prominently features Rafael van der Vaart as one of the fans’ and club’s favorite sons.
Rafa became an Ajacied at the age of ten when his performances with childhood club De Kennemers caught the eye of Ajax scouts. After shining at all stages of the Ajax Academy youth development system, Rafa made his debut for the Ajax first team at seventeen on April 19, 2000, under the stewardship of coach Co Adriaanse.
By 2001, the 27 matches Rafa played in for Ajax helped them clinch the Eredivisie (the Dutch Premier League) and the Rafa personally is named Talent of the Year in Holland. However, along with the brilliance on-field came injuries that would be an ongoing issue throughout Rafa’s career. Despite several knee injuries in the course of the 2002-2003 season, Rafa’s knack for the back of the net lands him on the scoresheet 18 times in just 21 matches. The following season, on 30 November 2003 to be precise, Rafa truly cements his place in Ajax legend when he scores arguably his most iconic goal ever.
In a match against arch rival Feyenoord – a goal that was both sublime in its creativity and the clearest examples of a true poacher’s instinct.
Rafa picks up another Eredivisie championship medal in 2004, and his natural leadership on the field prompts coach Ronald Koeman to give him the Captain’s armband. The following 2004-2005 season would be Rafa’s last with Ajax, the club at which he honed his talent for over a decade from 1993. At his final exit from the player’s tunnel of AFC Ajax’s Johan Cruijff Arena Amsterdam, Rafa had played 156 matches for 'de Godenzonenand' (The Sons of God), scoring 63 goals while winning two league titles, one KNVB Cup (the Dutch FA Cup) and one Johan Cruijff Shield (the Dutch season opening Charity Shield).