Rafael van der Vaart will always be remembered fondly by Spurs fans despite the fact that the midfielder was only at the club for a couple of years.
The thing that is most likely to stick in people’s minds from his time at the club was his consistent heroics against Arsenal.
The midfielder always seemed to turn up against Tottenham’s fiercest rivals and he has claimed that his performances against the Gunners helped to seal his status as a cult hero at the club.
Speaking to The Athletic, the Dutchman said: “You also need a little bit of luck (to become a fan favourite). I scored against Arsenal so many times which also helped.
“But it’s true when you play two years in a club and the fans already call you a legend, it’s special.”
The midfielder had previously been watched by Arsenal and admitted that his international teammate, Robin Van Persie asked him whether he would come to the Emirates but Van der Vaart is thankful that the move did not materialise.
He said: “I had luck I didn’t go to Arsenal because otherwise, I’d never have played for Tottenham.”
Tottenham’s 3-2 at the Emirates in 2010 is arguably the most dramatic North London Derby that the Dutch star was a part of.
The away side were trailing 2-0 at half-time and it looked as though it would be a routine win for Arsene Wenger’s men.
However, Spurs produced a miraculous come back to score three goals without conceding in the second 45 to give the club their first away victory at Arsenal in 17 years.
Recalling what happened that afternoon, Van der Vaart said: “It’s a funny story, we came in the dressing room, 2-0 down at half-time. Terrible, we played so bad and Harry Redknapp came in and the only thing he said was ‘Shut the f*ck up everybody. (Jermain) Defoe on, (Aaron) Lennon off.’ That’s it, he left the dressing room and went out.
“Everybody played bad and so nobody could complain. You’re just sitting and everyone shuts up and it’s like, ‘Do better in the second half’. But that was not difficult because worse was not possible.”
“Bale’s was a really nice goal (to make it 2-1) and then we felt OK, we got to play towards our own fans as you can see. That gave us so much power.
“Then the penalty (to make it 2-2). You’re always nervous. Some players are acting like, ‘Oh, I’m so cool’, but it’s a lie and I said it many times, ‘I was sh*tting my pants when it’s a penalty’. But then it goes in. It felt like relief and then you feel like the king and especially running to the fans and then you almost start crying. You think this could be a special day.
“I shoot it like this so I was running and then I went to our fans. I never thought about ‘Oh now I score, now I’m really a team player’, for me it was more that I really liked winning against Arsenal. I think it was almost 20 years ago that we had last won away against them. It was more important that we all were part of something special.
“This one was (Tottenham’s late winner with Kaboul heading home from Van der Vaart’s free-kick)… I couldn’t believe it. The only thing I thought was, ‘OK, take the ball, just try to hit the target, the goal, and hopefully, somebody is touching it,’ and then Younes Kaboul is scoring. I mean we… we went crazy.”
Another memorable North London derby that the Dutch legend was part of was the 3-3 draw at White Hart Lane during that same season.
The midfielder netted a brace in the game but fans likely remember the match for Van der Vaart’s cheeky double nutmeg on Jack Wilshere which was followed by verbals between the two players and a little push from the Spurs man.
Speaking about the incident, the 38-year-old said: “The fans love this. He (Wilshere) was the big star for Arsenal at the time, a good player, we liked him and he came to me so I just wanted to say listen, ‘There’s only one king here in the stadium — go home’.
“I can’t remember (what he said). I pushed him to say, ‘Hey, go away.’ It was in a nice way and yeah, these things happen in your career. I think he is not watching this! This game ended up 3-3 but it was certainly one of my best games for Spurs.”
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