Rafael Ferdinand Van der Vaart came into the world on the 11th of February in 1983 in a small town in Holland called Heemskerk with a population less than most football stadiums. From birth, Rafa wasn't blessed with a lot of opportunities. His Dutch father and a Spanish migrant mother from Cádiz raised raised little Rafa in a trailer park in the town, living a “gypsy lifestyle”, according to those who knew the family from their earlier days.

“That was the way my family lived. My father was born there and it is a lifestyle. Maybe it isn’t a normal lifestyle, but I always liked it. I always liked to play football on the streets.”

As a child, Rafa would spend almost every waking hour playing football on the streets, imagining himself as his hero, Brazilian legend Romário. Rafa’s dream of playing football seriously jump starts when the prestigious and demanding Ajax Academy invites him to join them at the age of ten. From then on, a fairy tale unfolds which brings Rafael van der Vaart a quarter of a century of joy as a professional football player representing top clubs including Ajax, Hamburger SV, Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, and Betis Sevilla. His explosive form for Ajax's youth teams gets Rafa a call-up to the Dutch international youth squad where he picks up 35 caps before being promoted to the senior squad. He collects 109 caps for Oranje, participating in five international tournaments: two FIFA World Cups (2006, 2010) and three UEFA European Championships (2004, 2008, 2012). At the 2010 World Cup, Rafa and his Dutch teammates finish runners-up to Spain. Rafa will go on to score around 200 goals in his professional career for both clubs and country over 19 seasons in Europe's top leagues and the international competitions.

In 2003, the Golden Boy award was introduced for the very first time, to recognize the most significant player in Europe under the age of 21. The Golden Boy jury, comprised of leading sports journalists across the continent, picked Rafa as the inaugural winner. At a tender 19, the win was clearly attributed to his depth of skill and understanding of the game that totally belied his age.

In the annals of European football, Rafa's on-field exploits garner him the honor of being one of the most prolific goal-scoring midfielders in Europe for over a decade, with perhaps only Frank Lampard keeping pace in the same period. This puts them in very select and prestigious company alongside legendary midfielders such as Michel Platini who performed the same feat in his heyday.

Even before his professional career comes to a premature end in November 2018, the next phase of Rafa's love affair with football begins in 2016 as he takes on the mantle of television analyst & pundit for Dutch national television broadcaster NOS covering Oranje international friendlies, qualifiers and championship matches. It's clear that you can take the boy away from football, but you can't take football away from the boy!

Undeniably, Rafael van der Vaart is one of the most respected players of his generation, idolized by little boys and girls who like Rafa when he was a child, are dreaming of their own football fairy tales. His natural talent, sheer grit and determination to win created a football fairy tale that will never grow old.

“25 years of playing football at the highest level filled my life with so many stirring, unforgettable memories. As this next chapter of my life begins, I look forward to pursuing new goals and spending more time with people I love. Despite having hung up my boots for good, football will certainly play a part in what I do next. So I hope you’ll stick around to see what I’m up to in my life after football.”

A video with highlights from Rafael Van Der Vaart's full career.