Van der Vaart: Win at City and the title is on
Spurs to pounce on any complacency, Dutchman warns.
He is without doubt a crowd pleaser, good for the game, who has not won anything for a while. Rafael van der Vaart and Tottenham Hotspur, you may say, have a lot in common. Now is the time, both believe, to translate entertainment value into trophies.
There was an understandable mutual attraction when they were thrown together at the 11th hour – the 23rd to be more precise – of the 2010 summer transfer window. Talk of a possible move from Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid to Bayern Munich, Arsenal or Liverpool had come to nothing and the Dutchman had left for an international break convinced he would be staying in Spain before Harry Redknapp took a phone call from his chairman Daniel Levy to say he was available for only £8m.
"I always felt we'd be in the top five," was how Van der Vaart felt about his fourth club in four different countries: Holland, Germany, Spain and now England. "When I was in Madrid, I saw they had great players and I was surprised how big the squad was. Great players like Niko Kranjcar were not even playing, plus [Giovani] Dos Santos and good defenders."
"Top five" proved an accurate prediction but today Spurs visit leaders Manchester City just five points adrift in third. There's even talk of the title itself, something not achieved at White Hart Lane since the fabled 1961 Double season.
"I think it's possible, we are much more consistent now," Van der Vaart said after training on Friday.
"Last season we dropped too many points against smaller teams, but everything depends on this game. If we can win, everything is open and the title can happen. Of course, if we lose, it's eight points and that's a lot.
"My ambition is to win something with this club. It would be a dream for us to be champions, but also the FA Cup. I think every player needs titles and I think this club can be bigger than everybody expected."
A medal or two would be more than welcome, for there has been nothing of significance since two Dutch championships during his time as a big fish in a comparatively small pool at Ajax, the club he first joined while living in a caravan park at the age of 10. The notion of football being fun was nurtured in those early days and remains, but the feeling now is that, with a 29th birthday to come next month, more tangible reward is overdue. "Every person is different. I also have some colleagues that just count winning. I want to win but I also want to enjoy my football," he added.
Entertaining is something Spurs have invariably been, although Redknapp found it difficult at first to accommodate a free-spirited attacking midfielder into a squad already containing Luka Modric, Kranjcar, four strikers and some accomplished wide men. He is at his best when sitting behind one striker, and the balance was clearly wrong when Redknapp's team was full of creative midfielders in the second game at home to City. They lost 5-1.
Emmanuel Adebayor, as a City loanee, was ineligible for that game and for today's, so Jermain Defoe will start but Spurs plan a tactical tweak by pushing Gareth Bale further inside, as they did with great success in the recent 2-0 win at Norwich, when he scored both goals. That may impinge a little on Van der Vaart's space but the Dutchman, who has occasionallylooked far from happy when substituted during games, insists he is willing to do what is best for the team: "You want to play 90 minutes and when you feel good you want to stay on but the coach can do what he wants. It doesn't mean you have to be happy. I always try to do my best."
In the City team he particularly admires David Silva, previously encountered playing for Valencia against Real Madrid, and even tough-tackling Nigel De Jong, a near contemporary from the Ajax academy who will doubtless be keen to get stuck into his countryman. "He is a hard player. His tackles can be dangerous but it's his game. Don't underestimate him, he's also a really good player."
If there is any underestimating to be done, he hopes it will be by City, who continue to regard Manchester United as their real challengers for the title. "I think maybe still in their head is the 5-1 but we are a different team now and we are much stronger, so after the game we can see where we stand. We have to win, we cannot play for a draw. It's going to be great for everyone to watch."
Manchester City v Tottenham is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm
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