When Rafael van der Vaart left Tottenham Hotspur in 2012, he left as one of the most popular Tottenham players in recent memory. Signed from Real Madrid just before the close of the transfer window in 2010, Rafa was an instant hit at White Hart Lane, scoring 24 goals in 63 matches and having an immediate impact on the squad.
Now having recently signed with Real Betis, Rafa addressed his time at Tottenham in an exclusive interview in the Mirror. There, he talked about how leaving Spurs continues to be a decision that he regrets, and how much he loved playing at White Hart Lane.
"It was private things, but also when what's his name [Andre Villas-Boas] came he said to me 'you're not my number one' and I had played two years, like, unbelievable, so for me it was really strange that he said that to me. So then I said, well, it's better to leave and that is what happened.
"It was a stupid decision, the most stupid in my career to leave Tottenham. I absolutely regret it because it was the best two years in my football life.
"When you see that team, when you have [Gareth] Bale, [Luka] Modric, me, [Aaron] Lennon... it was an unbelievable team. I think every game we played we were the better side. We had a lot of possession and a lot of fun with each other.
"And Harry [Redknapp] — he was like your dad. I would give everything for that man; I was really sad when he left."
It's interesting to read these quotes from Rafa about the way he left Spurs. Even by the end of his time at Tottenham he was known as being a player who could only go 60-70 minutes a match. But when Villas-Boas was hired, it wasn't difficult to see the writing on the wall. A player like van der Vaart, who operated in a free role under Redknapp and rarely contributed to midfield pressure, was not a good fit in AVB's tactics, which was known for positional discipline and high pressure on defenders. Between van der Vaart's status as an albatross in AVB's preferred style, his output, which was starting to decline just before he was sold, and his publicized domestic abuse allegations, it's not difficult to see the reasons why he was sold.
I loved van der Vaart, and like many, was sad when he left. It's not surprising to see him essentially trash AVB in this interview, since AVB's personnel decision was what caused him to leave a club that he truly loved. But that's football. Rafa was perfect for the high-energy, FRAAB-tastic Redknapp teams, but was never going to work under AVB, or even a manager like Mauricio Pochettino. He was a casualty of managerial change, something that happens to a lot of players at a lot of clubs.
With his career now winding down, it's fun to read about a beloved former player waxing nostalgic and talking about how much he loved us back. But perhaps it's better that Rafa left when he did, to save us the disillusionment of watching him decline under tactics that didn't suit him and a manager that didn't rate him.