ENG - TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR (2010–2012)

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The best place to start the tale of Rafa’s time at White Hart Lane is to rewind to the hours leading to his decision to sign for the London club. It plays out like a thrilling behind-the-scenes exposé highlighting how an impulse decision can lead to massive things.

“Jose Mourinho had been honest about my chances at Real Madrid, telling me they’d bought Mesut Ozil to play in my position. He said I could stay, but that I wasn’t in his starting XI. At that point I was still keen to stay at Real for another season, so I headed to a training camp with the national team. But at around 4pm on deadline day, my lawyer called me to say Spurs were interested in signing me. I asked him if I could think about it. He replied that I had to decide within two hours! I started to evaluate everything, then took a little nap. Suddenly I was jolted awake by the phone going off. It was about 5.40pm and my lawyer was on the phone again, telling me that I had to decide there and then. I thought for a split second, then said, “Yeah, let’s do it!” I had no time to overthink it or discuss it with anybody – it was pure intuition. Very soon I realized how happy I was with the decision. From the moment I arrived at Spurs Lodge, the club’s former training ground, I felt at home.”

Harry Redknapp’s steal proved to be a masterstroke for Spurs as Rafa again hit the ground running for his new club, garnering him the English Premier League Footballer-of-the-Month award for October 2010. Interestingly, he remains only the fifth Dutchman to ever win this accolade. Rafa’s goal rate also starts improving and he actually ends his first season as Spurs’ top scorer. His hunger for goals and wins proves to be the driving force behind a resurgent Tottenham Hotspur team bursting with young talents including Gareth Bale, Luca Modric, Aaron Lennon, and Peter Crouch, and guided by a man who would prove to be one of Rafa’s favorite managers.

“He was a magical guy – a father figure – but Harry could also be rock-hard. He was very much an old-school type of coach. During a team talk, he’d pull out a little piece of paper on which he’d written down the starting XI and would say things to us like, “Just give the ball to Luka [Modric], then Luka can try to find Rafa, and you will win the game.” Then, if we’d played a really good first half, he would openly praise you, saying things like, “Fucking hell, Rafa, what a player!” He gave you a boost – you would run faster for someone like him. Redknapp’s style suited my own very well, and it all fitted in perfectly with my overall positive image of the English game while I was at the club.”

Rafa’s brilliant form inspires the London club to mount a serious challenge for the Premiership title. They start playing with verve and spirit. By the season’s end, Spurs force their back into Champions League contention.

In every football league, there are rivalries that refuse to ease up with time. Ajax vs. Feyernoord, Real vs. Barcelona, and Internazionale vs. Milan are prime examples. In England, the London derby between Spurs and Arsenal is the stuff of legend. And as fate would have it, Rafa featured in one such match that took place on November 20, 2010. It was a game at Emirates Stadium with The Gunners going into the match with a comfortable seven-point lead over Spurs. Apart from the desperate need to close the points gap on their old rival, there was also the looming statistic of Spurs not having won away to Arsenal for over 17 years. The one question one everyone’s lips was if van der Vaart would live up to his big-game reputation. But things started out disastrously for Spurs, with Arsenal taking an early 2-0 lead and the visitors struggling to get a grip on the game. The second half however played out from a different script altogether, with Rafa spearheading a textbook comeback, inspiring his team to a historic 2-3 win. It’s one of Tottenham’s most memorable victories at Arsenal’s stadium, and a moment that gave Rafa a permanent home in the hearts of Spurs fans.

In total Rafa played 77 games and scored 28 goals for Tottenham Hotspur. Just like with all other teams he played for, Mr. van der Vaart left an indelible mark on Tottenham Shotspur in the way only Rafa can.

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