A young Dutch star goes to Portugal
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?
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.
"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!
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."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
PRIZES WITH AJAX
2001 - 2002
"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
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