Vaart A Difference: Dutch Midfield Maestro Brings A Touch Of Class to Tottenham

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Vaart A Difference: Dutch Midfield Maestro Brings A Touch Of Class to Tottenham
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

After 75 minutes of a pulsating encounter between Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa yesterday afternoon at White Hart Lane, Rafael Van der Vaart celebrated an exquisitely crafted and finished second and winning goal by diving head first, arms akimbo across the drenched turf towards thousands of jubilant Spurs fans.

But it was not just his celebration which was reminiscent of the club's one-time German hero Jurgen Klinsmann.

For the former Real Madrid attacking midfielder is quickly becoming a new hero in N17—not just for his goals, but also for the energy, flair, and quality with which he completes every action on the pitch. Yesterday, he was the heartbeat of every single Tottenham attack.

And his teammates—slow out of the traps yet again at home—increasingly relished his infectious enthusiasm and responded to conceding a soft opening goal with derring-do and purpose.

Suddenly Peter Crouch, often forlorn and frustrated in attack in the absence of Jermaine Defoe, grew an inch. Luka Modric and Jermaine Jenas stopped treading water on the sodden outfield and started winning the ball back from a five-man Aston Villa midfield and constructing attacks. 

In truth Villa, resurgent under new manager Gerard Houllier, were dominant for the first quarter of the match. Their attacking quartet of Marc Albrighton and Stewart Downing on the wings and Ashley Young playing off Emile Heskey caused Tottenham's makeshift defence numerous headaches even before they took the lead after 20 minutes.

Heskey seemed to be chasing a lost cause but managed to muscle Sebastian Bassong off the ball on the touchline and fed Marc Albrighton for a tap in from two yards. Moments later, Ashley Young whipped a free-kick narrowly wide of Heurelho Gomes's far post as the Claret and Blues flooded forward in search of a decisive second goal.

But Tottenham's motto is 'Audere Est Facere' (To Dare is To Do) and Van der Vaart together with Gareth Bale, in scintillating form on the left wing, got to work resurrecting their team.

Firstly, Bale fed Pavlyuchenko on the penalty spot only for the Russian's goal-bound shot to be blocked by the arm of the onrushing defender. Moments later, the duo combined again but the striker's touch was too faint to direct the winger's cross into the net.

Then came the Van der Vaart show: a 60-minute performance full of art and entertainment, with a 15 minute interval for the spectators to catch their breaths.

In the space of five minutes before halftime, Tottenham's leading scorer tested Brad Friedel with a low, rasping shot and then thundered a 20-yard effort narrowly over. But it was only a matter of time before the team created a real chance for their star player.

Crouch leaped in between two Villa defenders to direct an accurate cross from strike partner Pavlyuchenko towards the near post and Van der Vaart, belying his small but stock frame, beat a taller defender to the ball to head Spurs level on the stroke of halftime. He rushed over to the crowd and gave a little old lady a hug and a very fond memory. What a gentleman.

At half-time Spurs manager Harry Redknapp decided to sacrifice Pavlyuchenko, despite his impressive performance, to give his team a better shape and more width. Van der Vaart moved from the right-wing to a central attacking role and Aaron Lennon took up a wide position on the right, looking to force international teammate Stewart Downing back.

This bold move reaped its reward when Crouch and Van der Vaart combined for the third time in identical fashion to give Spurs all three points, as the man of the moment let Crouch's header pass across his body and beyond the reach of Richard Dunne before smashing the ball into the roof of the net.

Cue the Klinsmann dive and high fives from several relieved teammates.

After a home Champions League debut in which he experienced the good (opening goal), the bad (earlier penalty miss), and the ugly (two yellow cards), these two crucial goals mean that Van der Vaart has now scored four in three games at White Hart Lane, a record even the auricomous Herr Klinsmann would be proud of.  

There is no doubt that Tottenham will miss their chief midfield destroyer when they travel to the San Siro later this month. In the meantime, they will just be relieved that they have found a player of great charisma and quality who can finally score the vital goals from midfield which are so often important in tight matches.

For too long, Tottenham have had to rely on prolific forwards to outscore their opponents. With more depth in defence and a player in the mould of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard who will score 15-20 goals a season from midfield, Spurs may just have enough to again ward off the threat of cash-laden Manchester City and relive their Champions League adventure next year.

Opportunistic signing it may have been, but the £8 million Daniel Levy sent over to Madrid last month may be the best bit of business conducted by a Premier League club in a long while. 

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