ENG - HSV HAMBURG
HSV HAMBURG (2005–2008 & 2012-2015)
On 27 May 2005, the news breaks that Ajax legend Rafael van der Vaart will be plying his trade the German Bundesliga side in the new club soccer season. The response from the Ajax community wasn’t sweet, with even Johan Cruijff publicly criticizing Rafa’s decision to move.
But Rafa responded in the best possible way with a brilliant debut season for Hamburg, scoring six goals in his first eight matches and taking his new club to third place in the Bundesliga when the season came to a close. And the cherry on top was that this position qualified HSV for Champions League football. More significantly for the German footballing world, for the first time in decades, there seemed to be a club that had the makings to mount a serious challenge to Bayern Munich’s dominance.
Rafa made an instant mark by becoming the club’s top scorer his debut 2005-2006 season. Just like his miraculous akka goal against Fayernoord as an Ajax player, Rafa established his pedigree as a big-game player with his goal against Bayern Munich in only his third match in the Bundesliga. HSV won that game 2-0 with Rafa opening the accounts against all-conquering world class team of Recordmeister Bayern stars who were he standard-bearers of German football (till then!)
It was quickly obvious to all that Rafa was enjoying life in Germany and the Hamburg fans (just like their Ajax counterparts) took to him almost immediately, falling in love with his flair and skills on the pitch. Rafa was voted Bundesliga Player of the Month in September 2005 and finished as the Bundesliga Player of the Year runners-up at the close of the season.
Rafa seemed to have the Midas Touch for HSV, with the team not losing a single away game in eighteen months when Rafa plays. Like with Ajax, he’s appointed Captain of HSV in the 2006-2007 season. But this season also saw less of Rafa on the pitch owing to injuries. Compounding Rafa’s injuries is the club’s poor start to season, which only gets rockier with the appointment of Huub Stevens as HSV’s new manager midway through the year. Despite the dramas, HSV ended their Bundesliga season in a respectable seventh position and does better in the 2007-2008 season, finishing fourth. The team also reached the last sixteen stage in the UEFA Europa League that season, with Rafa scoring twelve goals in all club competitions.
His performances at HSV would result in a legendary club luring Rafa to Spain in 2008, but he would eventually return to HSV for a second, less spectacular spell from 2012 to 2015. The his six seasons in the Bundesliga saw Rafa play 199 matches for HSV, scoring 66 goals, and cementing his place in club folklore as one of HSV’s favorite adopted sons.