Despite making six appearances during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying process, the Real Madrid attacking midfielder contested only 438 minutes in total, giving him an average of 62 minutes per game. While clearly a key figure in the Netherlands set-up, Van der Vaart has yet to fully convince Bert van Marwijk that he is the team’s best option as the coach considers the wealth of talent at his disposal in forward positions.
Active in the Ajax youth ranks from the age of ten, the son of a Dutch father and Spanish mother was quickly identified as one of the club’s most exciting prospects thanks to his talented left foot and excellent technique. Labelled a prodigy by his coaches, he made his Eredivisie debut aged 17 in 1999/2000 and won himself a first-team place the following season, when he contributed seven goals. The dashing youngster had arrived and, despite some injury problems along the way, he helped Ajax clinch the Dutch league title in 2001/02 and the league and cup double in 2003/04, when he plundered an impressive 14 strikes in 20 outings. The captaincy then followed before the start of the 2004/05 campaign, Ronald Koeman confidently handing the 21-year-old the armband.
After six years in the Dutch elite, Van der Vaart left for Hamburg in the summer of 2005 and went on to score nine goals in his maiden season as HSV qualified for the UEFA Champions League. He weighed in with 20 more over the next two years, adding a further six in 14 European encounters, and that prompted Real Madrid to snap him up.
Since moving to the Spanish capital, the midfielder has experienced both highs and lows depending on the coach installed in the dugout. Often frustrated by his lack of playing time, he has proved quick to signal his discontent, feeding his reputation as an outspoken character. Nevertheless, his second season at the Santiago Bernabeu proved more successful than the first, featuring more time on the pitch and glimpses of the genius that made him a terrace legend in Amsterdam, not least when he fired two goals in two minutes against Real Zaragoza in Madrid’s final outing in 2009.
First capped by the Oranje when still aged 18 in October 2001, his promotion to the senior side came after he had played alongside the likes of John Heitinga, Arjen Robben and Klaas Jan Huntelaar in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina that same year. Called up for UEFA EURO 2004 and EURO 2008, he also took part in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Like his predecessor Marco van Basten, Van Marwijk appreciates the playmaker’s qualities and made him captain for an August 2009 friendly against England in the absence of Giovanni van Bronckhorst.