True Dutch Master

Rafael van der Vaart has not been able to claim the regular place that once seemed would be his right, injuries having influenced that, but he remains an important member of any squad, writes Andy Hampson.

Rafael van der Vaart, one of the stars of Dutch football, earned comparisons to Dennis Bergkamp and even the great Johan Cruyff when he burst onto the scene with Ajax at the start of the decade. He has not gone on to fulfil such lofty expectations but is still one of his country's high-profile players and appeared for it at Euro 2004 and last year's World Cup. He is now captain of Hamburg and the team's key playmaker. His marriage to model and presenter Sylvie Meis ensures he is never far from the public eye.

Van der Vaart was born in Heemskerk, northern Holland, and was taken under the tutelage of Ajax's famed youth system at the age of 10 having shone for his hometown club De Kennemers.

He made his senior debut in a 1-1 draw with Den Bosch in 2000 and established himself in the first team the following season. He scored seven goals in 27 appearances in 2000-01 and was capped by Holland the following October.

He scored 14 goals in his second full season and 18 the year after despite a number of injury troubles, including a serious knee problem. He appeared destined for superstardom and his growing influence earned him the Ajax captaincy.

Van der Vaart played a key role as Ajax won the Eredivisie title in 2004, but his time at the Amsterdam club would soon end due to problems largely off the field. He decided to move on in 2005 and surprised many by opting for German club Hamburg when it seemed his attacking flair was ideally suited to the Spanish game.

The move has worked out well for him, however, as Hamburg has built its team around his talents. The side's defensive solidity has allowed Van der Vaart to operate in his favourite attacking role behind the front two and the rewards for the club last season were a third-place finish in the Bundesliga and qualification for the Champions League.

Unfortunately, the team has not been able to match those standards this term and has become involved in a relegation battle.

On the international front, Van der Vaart has not been able to claim the regular place that once seemed would be his right, injuries having influenced that, but he remains an important member of any squad. He played a prominent role in qualification for last year's World Cup and featured in the tournament. Holland is currently on top of its qualifying group for Euro 2008.

Despite a number of low points due to injury, Van der Vaart's career probably reached its nadir during his final year at Ajax when he became a target for opposing fans' abuse because of his relationship with Meis. The referee in one match against ADO Den Haag in September 2004 even threatened to abandon the game because of the vitriol. Van der Vaart's relationship with coach Ronald Koeman also deteriorated and he was stripped of the captaincy. When things did not improve after Koeman left, Van der Vaart decided to head elsewhere.

Van der Vaart married the famous Dutch television presenter and model/pin-up Meis in June 2005. Their wedding was broadcast live on TV.

They had their first child, Damian Rafael, a year ago.

A fan of BMWs, Van der Vaart owns a luxury BMW 6 Series convertible. The current range of these sportscars is highly rated and prices range from GBP47,000-82,000. It handles well, is noted for its comfort and does 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds with a top speed of 155mph.

Name: Rafael van der Vaart Position: Midfielder Club: SV Hamburg DOB: February 11, 1983 Holland caps: 42 Holland goals: 8 Holland debut: v Andorra, October 2001 Moment to remember

Van der Vaart enjoyed one of his greatest days when he scored both goals in a memorable 2-0 win for Ajax over rivals Feyenoord at the Amsterdam ArenA in November 2003. Both goals came in the early stages with the first especially impressive, coming with a skilful flick of his heel.

Moment to forget

Van der Vaart's worst moment on the field came when he suffered a serious knee injury playing against RKC Waalwijk in February 2002. He ripped his meniscus and an operation to repair it proved unsuccessful. He had to have further surgery to have the meniscus removed completely and did not play again that season.

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