Tottenham have had enough success in recent years that it’s easy to forget, but signing Rafael van der Vaart was an absolutely insane coup for the club.
On the deadline day that will make all future deadline days a disappointment for Spurs fans, Tottenham swooped at the 11th hour to sign the Dutchman from Real Madrid for £8 million, a ludicrous bargain.
Spurs have had legitimate superstar players in the Premier League era. They’ve come through the ranks like Harry Kane; we’ve snapped them up before they hit their peaks like Luka Modric or Gareth Bale, only to see them leave soon after; we’ve signed players like Edgar Davids or Teddy Sheringham at a discount on the downside of their illustrious careers.
But I’m struggling to think of another time when we picked up a legitimate star in the middle of their prime.
Perhaps the closest comparison for Rafa’s career is Jürgen Klinsmann — foreign goalscorers who arrived with much fanfare, racked up a series of highlights during an all-too-brief stint at White Hart Lane that ultimately failed to deliver success for the club.
Still, it was fun while it lasted. In honor of VDV’s birthday, we’re looking back at his five top goals in a Spurs shirt. I apologize in advance for the quality of some of the videos, 2010 was a long time ago.
This season started with such promise but had severely stalled after Spurs’ Champions League exit. Most fans were just looking forward to the offseason, but Rafa provided us with one more highlight, looping the world’s slowest volley past Pepe Reina. This was Tottenham’s first (and only!) league win at Anfield since 1993.
This ended up being the final goal of his Tottenham career and it came at an extremely opportune moment. Modric had given Spurs an early lead, but Bolton leveled early in the second half. We realllly needed a win to keep pace with Arsenal and you had a feeling this was going to be one of those games where we hammered their goal, but couldn’t break through.
Then we did! Bale broke down the left and found Rafa, who steered the ball into the bottom corner. This was just such a typical VDV goal — he almost passed it into the tiny space between goalkeeper and post with the exact amount of power necessary and not a bit more. Maybe a third of his goals were just like that, where you weren’t quite sure if the ball was going to make it over the line, but it just snuck in. One of the few times he really leathered the ball was...
...in a great back-and-forth against Arsenal. Perhaps my favorite thing about van der Vaart was how much he seemed to enjoy scoring against them, like he’d played for Spurs his entire career.
The first of his two goals in this match leveled the score at 1-1 after a whirlwind opening seven minutes. Rafa ran straight to the Gooners in the corner and immediately put them in their place, jumping up and down and shushing them with glee.
The first of four goals he would score against Arsenal in his two years at the Lane was perhaps the most fun. Arsenal had raced out to a 2-0 lead, leaving us all lamenting the “same old Tottenham.”
Then Bale raced through to pull one back and Cesc Fàbregas handled a van der Vaart free-kick, giving Rafa a chance to level from the spot. I don’t think I’ve ever been as confident in someone scoring a penalty as I was in that moment. He did the shushing thing to the Arsenal fans in this one too,
Kaboul nodded in the winner right at the death to give us our first (and only!) road win over Arsenal since 1993.
Gareth Bale’s ridiculous second-half hat-trick in the reverse fixture at the San Siro restored some pride for Spurs, but the 4-3 scoreline flattered Tottenham. A loss at home to Inter, the defending champions at the time, would have left Spurs facing an uphill battle to qualify from the group.
Just 18 minutes in, Modric danced through the defense and fed van der Vaart, who ever-so-calmly stroked the ball into the back of the net to give Spurs the lead and settle the nerves around White Hart Lane. Then Bale destroyed Maicon, we went top of the group and truly felt like we belonged with the big boys in the Champions League.
I left that match thinking “holy crap, we’ve got quite a team on our hands.” Of course we followed that match up by losing to Bolton, because that’s how being a Spurs fan works.
But whatever, life goes on. Here are all 28 of his goals in a Spurs shirt, so enjoy!