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How Rafael van der Vaart Ruined Transfer Windows for Spurs Fans

Blame the Dutchman for all the obnoxious deadline day stories about Spurs.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Internazionale Milano - UEFA Champions League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Once upon a time on August 31, 2010 Daniel Levy pulled off something amazing: In the final hours of the transfer window, he signed Real Madrid attacking midfielder Rafael van der Vaart for £8m to boost the Tottenham squad ahead of that season’s Champions League.

And Spurs fans have been paying for it ever since.

To be sure, the VDV signing was awesome. He’s still one of my favorite players to ever watch at Spurs and even if he did nothing other than murder Arsenal twice a year it would have more than justified his transfer fee. Add in his Champions League performances and the way he hilariously destroyed Aston Villa on a regular basis and, well, it’s a pretty fantastic signing.

It’s just not remotely normal.

Tottenham’s Transfer Activity

Don’t believe me? Here is a complete list of players we have signed on deadline day since 2010-11:

  • Rafael van der Vaart
  • Scott Parker
  • Ryan Nelsen
  • Hugo Lloris
  • Clint Dempsey
  • Benjamin Stambouli
  • Dele Alli
  • Georges-Kevin N’Koudou
  • Moussa Sissoko

Of the nine, only three have had what you’d call successful careers at Spurs so far: VDV, Hugo Lloris, and Dele Alli. But neither Hugo or Dele’s deals looked anything like van der Vaart’s.

Spurs were linked with Lloris the entire summer and the primary reason the move was delayed so long was the prolonged saga with Luka Modric’s move to Real Madrid. Dele, meanwhile, was a totally fantastic signing, but not at all what van der Vaart was. Rafa was an established Dutch international, former Ajax academy prospect, and Real Madrid attacker. Dele was 18 and played for MK Dons. He didn’t even join the senior set up until that summer as he was immediately loaned back to MK Dons for the rest of the 2014-15 season.

Deadline day signings tend to fall into a few common categories, as the examples above demonstrate:

  • Panic buys where teams spend money (sometimes huge amounts of money) on players they have convinced themselves they need because #deadlineday or due to a sudden injury to a key player (Nelsen, Dempsey, Stambouli, Sissoko)
  • Smart signings of under-valued players that have been widely discussed for much of the window but were delayed for one reason or another and get finalized on deadline day (Parker, Lloris)
  • Garden variety signings of young project-type players that the team hopes will one day be prepared to contribute (Dele, N’Koudou)

Teams almost never pull off a signing like van der Vaart: a widely respected star player who gets signed by a new team unexpectedly and with almost no fanfare or rumors linking him to the team earlier in the window.

Quick: Name another van der Vaart-type signing pulled off by any other English team in the past seven years.

In fact, here you go: These are the deadline day signings for the other five teams in the big six since 2010-11


Arsenal v VfL Wolfsburg - Emirates Cup Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
  • Andre Santos
  • Per Mertesacker
  • Mikel Arteta
  • Nacho Monreal
  • Mesut Ozil
  • Danny Welbeck


Chelsea v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
  • Fernando Torres
  • David Luiz
  • Raul Meireles
  • Patrick Bamford
  • Kevin De Bruyne
  • Christian Atsu
  • Kurt Zouma
  • Mario Pasalic
  • Loic Remy
  • Juan Cuadrado
  • Papy Djilobodji
  • Michael Hector
  • Marcos Alonso
  • David Luiz


Liverpool v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
  • Paul Konchesky
  • Luis Suarez
  • Andy Carroll
  • Tiago Ilori
  • Mamadou Sakho

Manchester City

Stoke City v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
  • Owen Hargreaves
  • Scott Sinclair
  • Maicon
  • Matija Nastasic
  • Javi Garcia
  • Martin Demichelis

Manchester United

Manchester United v Wigan Athletic - The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
  • Marouane Fellaini
  • Saidy Janko
  • Timothy Fosu-Mensah
  • Anthony Martial

Obviously, there are a few good signings on the list.

Arsenal snagged Mesut Ozil on deadline day, but that deal had been discussed the whole summer and went through as soon as Gareth Bale completed his move to Madrid. So it was more Lloris than van der Vaart. Per Mertesacker was an excellent piece of business too but, again, hardly a van der Vaart signing.

Most of Chelsea’s signings have been dumb, although this year’s deadline day signings of Marcos Alonso and David Luiz look like savvy moves, though both probably belong to the same category as the Parker and Lloris signings—sensible deals that had been discussed on-and-off throughout the window.

Obviously Liverpool has the biggest coup of the lot with Suarez but, again, he had been linked with the club throughout the window. His transfer fee is obviously a huge bargain in hindsight, but remember that up to that point Suarez was mostly known as a temperamental Eredivisie striker—he was not at all a sure thing.

City’s record can be summed up as “LOL.”

United’s is almost as entertaining.

tl;dr Deadline Day is mostly bad and your team almost certainly isn’t going to stumble across a star in the final hours of the transfer window.

Signing Rafa was great. But it was perhaps quite literally a one-in-a-million thing. 99% of the time, deadline day signings are either protracted deals that finally go through on the final day of the window, bad panic buys that teams talk themselves into, or ordinary prospect signings that may or may not work out but are relatively low-risk. And that’s not bad, but it’s also hardly deserving of all the frenzy the transfer window inevitably inspires amongst the English media.