A young Dutch star goes to Portugal

8th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

As Euro 2004 in Portugal looms, Expatica profiles one of the most promising stars in the new generation of Dutch soccer players: 21-year-old Rafael van der Vaart.

Rafael van der Vaart, Holland's new hope?

The story of Dutch national mid-fielder Rafael van der Vaart reads like a fairy-tale. Brought up in a trailer park in the seaside town of Heemskerk, Van der Vaart, who's half Dutch half Spanish, started playing football at the age of four. He joined Amsterdam's prestigious Ajax youth club at 10, played his debut match at just 17 and was appointed Ajax team captain last season.

Now the grand age of 21, Van der Vaart has already had a book written about him (Rafael Ferdinand van der Vaart, Fenomeen), a postage stamp issued in his honour and collected a string of accolades (see box) including the title "greatest talent in Europe" by the Italian paper Tutto Sport. 

DUTCH EURO 2004 SQUAD Goalkeepers: Edwin van der Sar (Fulham) Ronald Waterreus (PSV Eindhoven) Sander Westerveld (Real Sociedad) Defenders: Michael Reiziger (Barcelona) Johnny Heitinga (Ajax) Jaap Stam (Lazio) Franck De Boer
There is no doubt about it: Rafael van der Vaart is well on the way to becoming a star, both on and off the pitch and is already being compared to icons such as France's legendary Zinedine Zidane and Britain's David Beckham. Van der Vaart: "Of course it's an honour to be compared with Zidane but it also puts you under pressure. Yeah sure, it keeps me awake nights sometimes.

"The only thing we [referring to Beckham] have in common is that we're both footballers and both have glamorous partners." Rumour is that Van der Vaart is about to ask his 26-year-old pop-presenter girlfriend Sylvie Meis to marry him.
Henk Spaan, one of Holland's best known football commentators: "Van der Vaart is, without doubt, going to be Holland's best footballer in three or four years time. He can be compared to Zidane at the same sort of age in terms of technique and feel for the ball."

Spaan says it's Van der Vaart's ability to create goals from nowhere that makes him special.

Getting the job done - Goaaal!

Thijs Slegers, a journalist with the biggest Dutch football magazine Voetbal International, agrees: "He can make a fantastic goal out of nothing – he scored 18 in the 21 games he played last season (2002/3) which is quite something for a mid-fielder. He's not big or strong – and he always looks as if he's a couple of pounds overweight – but uses his body cleverly and is fantastic technically. He transforms a game."

Spaan: "Until now the Dutch team has largely been made up of well-behaved, middle-class kids who lacked the killer mentality learnt on the street. But Van der Vaart is the exception, partly because of his background. He always wants to win."  

1999 Talent of the year (Ajax) 2000 Debut for Ajax's first team Amsterdam Talent of the year Played for Holland under 20 in World Cup in Argentina 2001 Debuts for national team 2002 Suffers knee injury, has me
Off the pitch, Van der Vaart is softly-spoken and unpretentious. Despite his early success, he says it was not until September last year that he felt he belonged in the group of top Dutch footballers.

One of the most common criticisms of Van der Vaart is his weight (officially 70g, height 1.74m) and he himself constantly complains about his tendency to be "too fat".

"It was a bit of a problem before the winter break. I was a little too chubby but I've absolutely worked on it and have played well since... And that's the point, when I play well no-one moans about my weight."


Van der Vaart's career highlights

Talent of the year (Ajax)

Debut for Ajax's first team;
Amsterdam Talent of the Year;
played for Holland under 20 in World Cup in Argentina

Debuts for national team

Suffers knee injury, meniscus removed


2001 - 2002
League Champion
Amstel Cup
Amsterdam Tournament

Amsterdam Tournament
(and best player in tournament)
Johan Cruijff Schaal

Most people say Van der Vaart has a fairly stable personality although he has been know to explode in the face of what he sees as unfair criticism. Van der Vaart: "I don't mind constantly being in the media spotlight but it can be irritating when people say things that are not true. It's painful when they say that I don't focus on football – it's my whole life!


"My dream is to play for Barcelona but I wouldn't hang up if Real Madrid called …it's partly the football but also because I'm half Spanish. I wasn't brought up bilingual but I'm working on learning the language."

He says he doesn't know and doesn't want to know if there have been official contacts from foreign clubs – there are rumours that several top European clubs are interested including Barcelona and Manchester United (his contract with Ajax runs til 2006). "At the moment I'm concentrating on Portugal." Although he has already proved himself at Ajax, he's the "new kid on the block" as far as the national side is concerned.

Questions on his current weight are met with laughter and a look that clearly says "no way am I naïve enough to tell the press that". 

Celebrity partner, presenter Sylvie Meis

Another criticism is that Van der Vaart still needs to learn to perform when his team's defending – and if last Saturday's performance is anything to go by, it's a lesson he needs to learn quickly.

In just a few days time (15 June) the Dutch play Germany in their first match of the European Championship. And the German team includes the player Van der Vaart fears the most: Michael Ballack. Nevertheless, Van de Vaart is looking forward to the match: "Holland versus Germany is always a classic battle".

[Copyright Expatica 2004 and Abi Daruvalla]

8 June 2004

Subject: Dutch national soccer team + Euro 2004

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