WITH his wonderful ability as a footballer, Rafael van der Vaart has graced three of the world’s finest leagues.
La Liga with Real Madrid, the Bundesliga with SV Hamburg and the English Premier League with Tottenham.
A gifted, attacking midfielder, he also played 109 times for Holland and captained them in the 2010 World Cup Final defeat to Spain in South Africa.
Van der Vaart will be 34 next month, so it’s fair to say his very best days are behind him.
But he still has plenty to offer – and would not be against showing it in the SPFL Premiership.
Currently playing in Denmark for FC Midtjylland and contracted for another 18 months, van der Vaart still commands a healthy salary.
That may mean only Celtic could afford to entice him to this country.
He is well aware of the club, and that stretches back to when Pierre van Hooijdonk would speak about the Hoops when he was on international duty with Holland.
Arthur Numan and Giovanni van Bronckhorst would do the same, only they would wax lyrically about Rangers.
That created enough intrigue for van der Vaart to be open to considering any offer to play in the SPFL Premiership for one half of the Old Firm.
In an exclusive interview, the Dutchman told The Sunday Post: “My career as a footballer has been a great journey, and I know I have been very fortunate.
“For most of the time, I have been happy and fulfilled. That gives me as much satisfaction as anything else because I know many players who have not always been happy for one reason or another.
“My focus at every club I played for was to give 100% in every game. That always had to be the starting point.
“If you have that attitude, then you give yourself the best possible chance of making a difference in the 90 minutes.
“Playing well, for me, didn’t always mean scoring a great goal or providing an assist for a winning goal.
“It could be about a simple thing, like playing my part in a team strategy to stop the most-influential player in the opposition from finding his rhythm.
“You have to be unselfish to be successful.
“Sure, I did score goals for the clubs I played for, and I love the feeling of putting into the back of the net. I still love it and get as much satisfaction from doing it now as I did 10 years ago.
“Basically, I’m still a little boy at heart and I still love the game of football.
“Playing in Denmark with FC Midtjylland has been another experience for me to try. It’s one of many countries I’ve played football in.
“I’ve not had the opportunity to play in Scotland – but we’ll see what the future offers.
“I like Scotland, and I’ve had many team-mates at club and international level talk so highly about the passion and the rivalry that exists.
“They often spoke about Celtic and Rangers, and it does appear to be something quite special.
“So, for sure, if something was put to me, then I’d look at it.
“I’m still fit, I’m still young enough and still want to play at the highest level possible. So I would never say never.”
Many players have arrived in their mid-30s to play in Scottish football and brought that wee bit extra to a 90 minutes, from Lubo Moravcik to Russell Latapy, Claudio Caniggia to Roy Keane.
In his preferred role as a No.10, van der Vaart would also provide box office.
To date, his happiest memories at club level were at White Hart Lane under Harry Redknapp and Joe Jordan.
They managed the Spurs team that qualified for the 2010-11 Champions League and turned Gareth Bale into an £80-million superstar in the process.
They defeated AC Milan in the quarter-finals that season, but lost to Real Madrid in the semi.
Van der Vaart recalled: “I was at Real Madrid and I regard them as the biggest club side in the world.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave there, but Spurs made it very clear they wanted me.
“I wondered what the club would be like, but I have to say I settled in very quickly and the supporters made me very welcome.
“I felt at the top of my career when I played for them and we had some good success in the Champions League.
“We had a really good team, we were developing and growing and if we could have stayed together for one or two more years, we could have won the Champions League.
“Harry Redknapp was a great manager and knew how to get the very best out of his players. He was like a father figure to me.
“Beside him he had Joe Jordan, a very good coach and a proud Scotsman.”
Van der Vaart witnessed the aggressive streak that made Jordan such a formidable player during a feisty Champions League tie in Milan.
Enraged by a Mathieu Flamini tackle that led to Vedran Corluka being stretchered off, Jordan was making his feelings known when he clashed with AC’s former Rangers midfielder, Rino Gattuso.
That carried on at full-time, and the Italian head-butted big Joe, for which he subsequently received a four-match ban.
Van der Vaart admired Gattuso’s bravery!
“I’ll never forget that moment between Joe and Gattuso in the San Siro,” he recalled.
“I know the person I would have fancied to win!
“Overall, I had great memories at Spurs and the fans still give me a good feeling. In fact, I still go back to White Hart Lane to support the team when I can.”
When the time comes to hang up his boots, van der Vaart hasn’t decided the career path he will choose next.
It’s unlikely he will want to become a head coach and have that 24-hours-a-day existence of living with the job and all the problems that come with it.
But having worked under the likes of Redknapp, Jose Mourinho and Dick Advocaat, he has plenty to offer, and may look at coaching youths or scouting.
He said: “All of my coaches helped me in different ways.
“There can be many good times, but also some times when you are down and left out. That is normal in football.
“But any negatives you have, you must try to turn them into positives because you need to sample the bad times to truly appreciate the success when they arrive.
“I’ve loved my football, from my early days at Ajax to where the game has taken me to today. I hope to have many more special memories to come.”
In Scotland? We shall see.
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