Born of a Dutch father and a Spanish mother, Rafael van der Vaart was brought up on a caravan park in Beverwijk and was kicking a ball around from an early age ... something that took him from his local side De Kennemers to the Ajax Academy at the age of 10.
His debut for the Dutch club came when he was just 17 and he did well in the side until hit by a knee injury in the 2001-2002 season, taking an operation on him to remove the meniscus from his knee to sort it out. This was just after he had made his national team debut aged just 18.
Left for Hamburg in a controversial move after two incidents that changed his mind about Dutch football. A training ground clash with Zlatan Ibrahimovich saw the Swede moved out of the club and then when playing at Den Haag, the opposition fans chanted insults and anti-Semitic abuse about his then girlfriend (and now his wife Sylvie) leading to the game having to be stopped.
A good start with a debut goal and a hat-trick against Sporting Gijon was tempered by the fact that Rafael did not get an extended run in the side, with coach Juande Ramos using him from the bench, to try and influence matters later on in the game. Things got worse when new coach Manuel Pellegrini failed to give the Dutchman a squad number at the start of the 2009-2010 season, but van der Vaart managed to play his way into the team under the Chilean.
Real wanted to sell van der Vaart at the end of the 2008-2009 season, but his wife was diagnosed as having breast cancer and the player did not want to move away from Spain, where she was receiving treatment. Happily the treatment was successful and she is now in remission, so when the transfer window was coming to a close in August 2010, Spurs nipped in at two hours notice to sign the midfielder for a bargain £8 million and he was happy to make the move. Things did not go smoothly, with the Premier League looking into whether the deal went through before the deadline, but eventually confirmed the signing, after technical problems with computers had prevented the necessary paperwork reaching the Premier League offices, although the deal was done between the clubs before 18:00. Harry Redknapp had said that Rafael was set to join Bayern Munich for £18 million and could not work out how Spurs had secured his services for just £8 million, but this offer from the German club was refuted by Real later. The player said the only other club who expressed a serious interest were Atletico Madrid and Real were not keen to see him cross the city and play for their rivals, so Tottenham's approach was the best solution for all.
Rafa was a revelation on his move to White Hart Lane. Offering an understanding of the game at the top level, his free role suited him and while it sometimes meant more work for others or others being left out to accommodate him in his role behind the lone striker, his goals from midfield gave Spurs a new threat to their game. The fact that they came regularly against Arsenal also endeared him to the Tottenham supporters.
From his arrival, van der Vaart seemed troubled by thigh and hamstring problems, but his visits to controversial Rotterdam based physiotherapist Dick van Toorn helped him recover from them very quickly.
His first season was impressive considering he joined after the World Cup in South Africa that summer, so with a Champions League quarter final behind him and a full pre-season, he was at the top of his game in 2011-12. Arriving in the box at the right time to finish off moves or moving deep or wide to pick up the ball and play short or long passes, his mobility allowed him to be elusive and play in areas where the opposition were unaware of his presence.
Enjoyed playing behind the main striker, but could play anywhere across the midfield and his reading of the game and his eye for a pass helped Spurs reach the quarter finals Champions League on their first entry into the competition, only to lose to his former side Real Madrid.
Was married to Sylvie (an MTV presenter) in 2005 and has one son - Damian Rafael born in 2006. The marriage broke up amid allegations of domestic abuse and Sylvie having an affair with an airline pilot. Rafael later dated Sabia Boulahrouz ,who was a former team-mate's wife.