Rafael van der Vaart of Tottenham in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City at White Hart Lane.
In keeping with the role of chief agitator I'm coming to adopt on this site, I thought I'd continue this week by posing the question of whether or not Rafael van der Vaart satisfies the utilitarian criteria of providing us Spurs fans with the maximum, erm, pleasure we could get from an attacking midfielder while bringing the least possible pain. There's no question that Rafa was a key player last season, providing us with some of the missing bite we suffered from in not having a solid No. 9.
He is solid as a rock as a playmaker and his ball control and finishing and set piece abilities served up some of the best moments of the last season; his having a hand in all three of the goals that took the Spurs to their first win at the Emirates in 17 years will ensure that he'll have to do an awful lot to lose the special place in my heart he carved out in last 12 months.
There's thus no doubt that Rafa has done enough to dig a permanent first-team niche for Spurs since his arrival last September. Despite all of the positives he brings to the first team, however, there is arguably evidence to suggest that the very fact he's now such as key player for Tottenham could soon start to prove a problem.
The first issue that has always been abundantly clear since Rafa's arrival is his inflexibility. Indisputably, van der Vaart can only play one role on the pitch, and that is as an advanced playmaker/forward sat behind the striker. When Redknapp has tried him in other positions, such as in wide midfield on the right, he has shown a tendency to drift inside, or dawdle in a deep position; in any respect, when played out of his comfort zone, Rafa will not play the role he is supposed to play. A cursory glance at his passing statistics when played out of position, such as those for the match against Aston Villa last shown below, demonstrate this fact clearly.
The subsequent problem that van der Vaart's inflexibility creates thus means that he is wasted unless the squad is built around him. If a lack of versatility was Rafa's only problem, however, I'd be more than willing to overlook it for the potential for goalscoring and assisting he provides. The trouble is, however, that this isn't the only issue that he's been linked to this year. Another on-pitch problem is his lack of fitness. Since the first month of Rafa's time with Spurs, even Harry Redknapp has admitted that he has not often been in the necessary shape to last 90 minutes of play time.
Van der Vaart has also proven something of a liability off the pitch as well. To a growing extent since the middle of last season, he has not hesitated to speak his mind about the direction the club is heading in, and to an extent fans should probably celebrate this fact as a sign of his concern and dedication for Tottenham. Equally, however, it is difficult to uphold Rafa's right to speak freely to the press when his word often contradicts that of both his manager and chairman; condemning his recent exclusion
from the side that will face PAOK in the Europa League is the latest in a string of comments he has made to the media in recent months that have undermined Redknapp's authority, with another key example being his unhelpful speculation on Luka Modric's future over summer. Indeed, even the fury he has demonstrated on a number of occasions on which he has been subbed off has been indicative of a lack of respect for the word of his manager.
Yes, ultimately, I would still count myself in amongst the van der Vaart fanclub. By the end of last season I was still firmly in the camp that the side should build around his strengths and support him. If the potential benefits of his inclusion are eventually eclipsed by the disruption he can cause, however, I see no reason to keep structuring the squad around him. Whether or you agree or disagree, I welcome any challenges or developments of my view as ever.