Spurs last-minute signing of Rafa Van der Vaart is super exciting for a number of reasons. As Sid Lowe explains in at Sports Illustrated, Van der Vaart now has the opportunity to emulate fellow Dutch Madrid castoffs Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben:
Real Madrid’s transfer policy has so often been to buy that season’s Balón d’Or winner, as if France Football was doing its scouting; Real’s strategy has been to buy the season’s outstanding player, the World Cup’s greatest star. This summer it couldn’t — and it couldn’t because it’d just sold them. Because Europe’s outstanding players over the last 12 months have probably been Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben.
The same Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben whom Madrid ditched last summer. The same Sneijder and Robben who won domestic doubles with their new clubs. Correction: led their new clubs to domestic doubles. The same Sneijder and Robben who reached the World Cup final with Holland. The same Sneijder and Robben who faced each other in the Champions League final. While Real Madrid won nothing.
I would add that it is likely that Robben and Sneijder, though eventually discarded for peanuts, likely benefitted from their time in Madrid. Certainly, as was obvious last season, they are superior players to when they arrived in the Spanish capital. The intense competition for places with such a talent laden lineup clearly elevated their games, even if they didn’t get as many opportunities to display them in competitive matches. I expect VDV to display a similar sharpness. He is a truly elite player and Tottenham has been crying out for one. Top 4 sides have top 4 talent. That we paid so little for VdV is shrewd business from one of the few clubs in England who have exercised restraint over the past five or six seasons.
Practically, VDV is a scoring midfielder who ought to contribute his fair share of goals. Besides Kranjcar, Tottenham don’t have any midfielders with a great eye for goal. Modric, for all of his skill, fails to convert regularly, as do Lennon, Huddlestone and Palacios. Bale’s buccaneering style, athleticism, height and left foot could net him a fair share but it remains to be seen if that will come to pass. VdV, on the other hand, is a player who could probably get 10 league goals if he stays healthy, thus taking the pressure off of Defoe, who will need groin surgery at some point. Crouch, for all his success in Europe and at the international level, has never scored enough goals domestically. That leaves us with Pav and Robbie Keane, who are both far too streaky to carry the load for 90 minutes.
I expect Redknapp to become more amenable to a 4-5-1 and thus move away from our sometimes stagnant 4-4-2 where one of the forwards inevitably becomes lost in trequartista hell (witness Defoe during the 2nd half of our loss to Wigan. Pav and Keane also seem to slip into this pattern with regularity). Given the surfeit of creative outside midfielders, a strategy like that makes use of that depth could result a more effective brand of football that would leave us less susceptible to counter attacks since we have little speed down the middle. I see VdV being deployed in the hole behind the striker in a lineup like this:
Van der Vaart
Bale/Krancjar Lennon/dos Santos
Assou-Ekotto Dawson/Gallas King/Bassong Corluka/Kaboul
Or, in a Christmas tree formation like this (home matches):
VdV Modric/dos Santos
Bale/Krancjar Huddlestone/Sandro Lennon/Bentley
Thus, rather than having our forwards drop uselessly into the hole to try to connect our midfield and forward lines we will have a player who has the skill set and game to actually perform the role and I think dos Santos could prove a worthy understudy in the role. When Crouch leaves the field and Modric isn’t playing we tend to run out of ideas and long balls from Huddlestone or aimless crosses into the box are the extent of the team’s creativity. Hopefully VdV will allow the squad to expand their capabilities when going forward and allow for a strategic change that won’t put undo pressure on the precocious kids in the squad who for all their talent still default to kick and run tactics if things don’t work out.
Also, for what it’s worth, Van der Vaart, historically, has also been able to stay healthy, making at least 30 appearances for club each of the past four seasons. If we manage to hold onto him after this season I’ll be somewhat amazed, but regardless it is a tidy bit of business for a club who unlike almost every other club in England seems to know what it is doing.