Rafael van der Vaart
Born: Feb. 11, 1983, in Heemskerk, Netherlands
Clubs played for: Another Ajax wunderkind, Rafael van der Vaart joined the Dutch giants in 1993 and rose through the system to become one of the club's most acclaimed young talents of the last decade. In an Ajax team that included Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wesley Sneijder and John Heitinga, the 27-year-old was considered the club's most talented player when he wasn't beset by injuries or his own hubris. In five seasons with Ajax's first team, van der Vaart won two Eredivisie crowns and one Dutch Cup. With all of Europe clamouring for his attention, the attacking midfielder shocked the soccer world by opting for a $7-million transfer to Hamburg. Indeed, van der Vaart was HSV’s shining light, but his talents didn't impel the team to grand achievements. Three forgettable years later, Real Madrid came calling and van der Vaart enthuasitically jumped at a $17-million move to La Liga in the summer of 2008. Van der Vaart’s career, however, has not gained much momentum since, and he finds himself a bit player on a team full of struggling stars.
International career: There isn't a famous, bygone Dutch hero van der Vaart hasn't been compared to, and while he shows glimpses of Cruyff's touch, Van Basten's shot and Dennis Bergkamp's creativity, van der Vaart has always been inconsistent when he dons the famous Oranje. In 75 appearances since 2001, he has 15 goals.
Why is he so special? Van der Vaart loves it when the fortune of his team lies at his feet, and he certainly is a big game player. Although it would be unfair to categorize him as selfish, when van der Vaart asks for the ball, he wants it immediately, in the same way so many other Dutch players think international glory is a personal rather than team goal. Nonetheless, the Dutchman’s talent is undeniable — he can weave a beautiful quilt of passes and crosses with a ball that few others have even the imagination to create.
His most famous moment: While against Feyenoord in 2004, van der Vaart scored a ridiculous back heel goal from a cross while he was falling forward
He said it: "I have pretty high expectations of the World Cup … I want to make it to the final. I don't care what team we meet in the final, as long as we get there."
What they are saying about him: "He (van der Vaart) has taken a big risk ( staying with Real Madrid). Though Rafael has had signs he will play, nothing is guaranteed after what went on in pre-season. He's made his choice, but will he even play in his favoured position? At Madrid he is just one more player." — Bert Van Marwijk, Netherlands head coach
Here is an interesting fact: In the summer of 2004, the Netherlands faced Sweden in an international friendly during which Zlatan Ibrahimovic injured van der Vaart. A few weeks later, the Swedish striker was sold to Juventus.