Rafa the Survivor: What's Next for Rafael van der Vaart?

Ann GryCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2010

MADRID, SPAIN - DECEMBER 19: Rafael Van Der Vaart of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring Real first goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Real Zaragoza at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on December 19, 2009 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

You probably prefer his wife Sylvie over him but let’s pay a little attention to Rafael van der Vaart while he still deserves it. Given our beloved team’s attitude it probably won’t last long. However, it is worth it to say a few words about him because lately he started to shine in a team where he was the last person to get the chance to play.

During Real Madrid’s last ’09 game with Zaragoza, van der Vaart scored two goals and received a standing ovation from the fans at the Bernabeu. Six months ago he wasn’t even on the bench for domestic clashes.

Rafa didn’t have an easy time during his 18 month spell with Los Blancos. He was bought in 2008 as a replacement for injured Wesley Sneijder. Like every Real Madrid newcomer, he had a huge pressure on his shoulders and was constantly forced to describe how great Raul is.

Used to be one of the stars in Bundesliga, he found it hard not to be included in starting 11. Neither Bernd Schuster nor Juande Ramos put him on his nominal position, "mediapunta." Very often put on the left wing, he didn’t deliver and became a constant warmer of the bench. It was no surprise when during last summer’s transfer window the Dutchman was the first one on “for sale” list. After months of rumors about interests from Chelsea, Juventus, and Tottenham it turned out that nobody, besides Beşiktaş, wanted to buy him.

Fourteen players were forced out of Bernabeu in order to make a place for You-Know-Who, including two fellow Dutchmen, who had Pellegrini’s support. Arjen Robben went to Bayern which is perfect for him—Munich has amazing hospitals, and Wesley Sneijder became the new girlfriend of Jose Mourinho in Inter. Rafa stayed. But we can’t call it a victorious battle.

Pelegrini was brutal and set the records straight by saying, “I don’t see you in the squad”. And it was true, Rafa wasn’t even called up for friendly games. But he worked hard on every training, letting Pellegrini know that “I’m here if you need me”. It seemed stupid, but slowly things started to change. Other players that were untouchable during transfer window turned out to be less important or less talented that we thought.

Unlike Fernando Gago, van der Vaart opted against sulking, whining, and getting his agent to moan to the press during his ongoing absence from the starting lineup. 
Instead, Rafael kept on working hard, made an impression with decent performances when he did feature and has been rewarded with a series of sparkling starts.

This time, rather than being stuck out on the wings or in midfield, the Dutch international is now in his favorite second striker position and proved that he belongs there with two goals against Zaragoza.

Despite all this, we can’t say that his career is secure. Rafael may not be spectacular and irreplaceable, but his attitude proved his humility and respect towards Pellegrini. Rafa knows exactly that he got the chance because of Kaka’s absence. And it is reported that 65 million Euros are getting better and will be fit for Sunday’s clash with Mallorca.   

But for now, Rafael van der Vaart is Real Madrid’s first 11. Raúl starts form the bench.