Rafael van der Vaart played at various clubs during the span of his 25-year career including Ajax, Hamburger SV, Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, and Betis Sevilla. In the course of his professional career, he won 109 international caps for the Dutch senior team in addition to having played 35 international matches for the national youth squad.
In 2003, the prestigious Golden Boy Award is introduced for the very first time. The prize is in recognition of the most significant talent in football playing in Europe under the age of 21, as determined by a jury of journalists from leading sports media outlets across the continent. Rafa becomes the inaugural winner, and the only Dutch player to win this prestigious award till today. The likes of Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Paul Pogba, and Kylian Mbappé will go on to emulate Rafa's achievement of becoming fellow Golden Boys in the years after.
But indications of his brilliance were already there long before Rafa received the award, evidenced by the Ajax fans passionate love for him. In retrospect, every stage of Rafa’s development played a role in winning the Golden Boy award, starting with his childhood club De Kennemers where his winner’s mindset and attitude was first formed.
Joining the prestigious AFC Ajax Academy at ten built on Rafa’s excellent start at De Kennemers, and created the foundation of the exceptional player he would become at Ajax. Rafa’s brilliant first seasons that the club both announced the birth of a new favorite Ajax son, but also alerted the media across Europe of this phenomenal talent. Young stars including Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Paul Pogba, and Kylian Mbappé would succeed Rafa as fellow Golden Boys, but Rafael van der Vaart remains the only Dutch player to have won this award till today.
The statistics of Rafa’s International career include five international tournaments: two FIFA World Cups (2006, 2010) and three UEFA European Championships (2004, 2008, 2012). At the 2010 World Cup, the Dutch team finished runners-up to Spain. In total for both clubs and country, Rafa scored around 200 goals over 19 seasons in Europe’s top leagues and International matches.
In his natural role as an offensive midfielder, Rafa was 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 these men in the very select and prestigious company alongside legendary midfielders such as Michel Platini who performed the same feat in his heyday. This might go a long way in explaining the cult status that surrounds players like Lampard, Platini and van der Vaart.
Appointed a Federal Knight by the Dutch Football Federation (KNVB) on October 13, 2018, in recognition of his many years of service to Dutch football, Rafa almost immediately announced his retirement from the professional game owing to recurring injuries. Even before his retirement, he was gaining a reputation as an entertaining television analyst and pundit for Dutch national television broadcaster NOS, covering Oranje international friendlies, qualifiers and championship matches. It’s almost a certainty that football will always feature heavily in Rafa’s life as he pursues new adventures as one of Dutch football’s all-time greats.