Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ditching the Dutch

As of 12:30am on 2010-09-07 Singapore Time, Rafa Van Der Vaart's website still lists him as a Madridista. He may have served us only for a couple of seasons, but I'll always be thankful for what he's given us.
.
As the hours wound down to close the transfer window shut across Europe last week, so of course did the final squad lineup of Real Madrid take shape: with Royston Drenthe going out on loan to newly-promoted (another term for ‘relegation battler’) Hercules and Rafael Van De Vaart making his buzzer-beating transfer to Tottenham Hotspur. The transfers bring about a lot of talking points good and bad. Here goes some thoughts:
.
.
Royston Drenthe
Royston Drenthe: He was as frustrated in Madrid as we Madridistas were frustrated in watching him. No. Maybe we were more frustrated.
.
It is not clear to me how Real Madrid (Mijatovic & Calderon in particular) could decide to splurge 14m Euros on a teenage talent who has only managed to prove himself over the course of one tournament (the U21 World Cup or Euros?), without adequate proof of his talents at club-level. He started at Madrid with some degree of promise, scoring a spectacular consolation goal in the 5-3 mauling we experienced at the hands of Sevilla in the Supercopa… and then that was it.
.
The dreadlocked Dutchman is reportedly a physical specimen: equipped with the strength and stamina of a bull, built like a tank and gifted with a Brazilian attacker’s pace, agility and flair. Perhaps, in an effort to be fair, God probably also gave him the crossing ability of a pub league player, the ability to defend his goal like that of a geeky high school freshman guarding his lunch money and the positional sense of a visually & hearing-impaired 80-year old. His supposedly best position would be as a left back where adequate space in front of him would allow him to use his pace and power to bomb forward and knife through a defense. In a world where the fullback is fast becoming the most difficult position of all however, his positional & defensive naïveté has also meant that his presence on the pitch could mean tactical suicide for the manager – a recipe that doesn’t exist in Jose Mourinho’s menu.
.
The combination of his astounding talent, his youth and his refusal to outright leave Real Madrid has seen him leave the club on a much-delayed yet much-needed loan deal: nevermind that it’s for a club like Hercules. It’s a place for him to play regularly and attain a certain level of match fitness and build up his confidence. Above all the experience will serve as a perfect venue to for Real Madrid to find out if the 14m Euros spent on him was worth it or not. If it was, then the cellar-dwelling club has now turned themselves into darkhorses for the battle to survive when Drenthe’s talents can be matched with the goal scoring abilities of David Trezeguet (I wonder why we never chose to employ him as our 3rd striker?).
.
It is hoped that by the end of this season, we will all finally find out if Drenthe is a 14m euro writeoff, a break-even deal in the transfer market or a true Real Madrid Calibre player.
.
.
Rafael Van Der Vaart
.
Rafa Van Der Vaart joined Real Madrid with plenty of mixed reactions: arriving at the last minute on the summer of Ramon Calderon’s infamous, shameless and ultimately failed pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo. Rafael Van Der Vaart arrived at Real Madrid with a certain degree of fanfare: helped by the fact that he successfully played the glamorous ’10’ position in his previous club (Hamburg SV), his part-Spanish ancestry and his gorgeous celebrity wife: he fit perfectly into Real Madrid’s ‘23’ jersery (made famous by golden balls himself and his Spice Girl spouse). He was purchased in a very similar manner to Mesut Ozil: with a year remaining on his contract, Hamburg SV had no choice but to sell him cut-price when Real Madrid came knocking.
.
He started his Real Madrid career well: taking over free kick duties to score a goal and assist Pepe for a winning goal during a preseason match. With the injured Sneijder on the sidelines, he then managed to score 4 goals (I think) in the early stages of his debut season which included a stunning back-heeled goal. Sadly though, the recovery of Sniejder combined with a dip in form condemned him to the bench with bit-part appearances. Playing amongst Schuster’s front or middle 3 in a 4-3-3 (but never behind the striker/s as he preferred) or along the wings on a 4-4-2, Van Der Vaart, never managed to show off his playmaking skills and suffered as a paceless winger (with minimal crossing abilities) or as a wasteful striker (without the requisite penalty box killer instincts). He ultimately became part of the collective failure of the club from the corrupt President (Calderon) the sleazy Sporting Director (Mijatovic) and the witless Manager (Schuster).
.
Enter Florentino Perez: Van Der Vaart found himself as a sacrificial lamb and as an economic counterweight to the arriving galacticos version 2.0 project. He was offered across Europe but with no buyers (after his disappointing season) and with his insistence to stay on (reportedly due to his wife’s battle with cancer who required treatment in Madrid), not even dirty tricks played by the management (e.g. his exclusion from the preseason US tour and temporarily taking away of his jersey number) could get him out of Madrid. In the end, it was his fellow Dutchmen, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben (with Ruud leaving us later) who left the Bernabeu for greener pastures (i.e. the Champions League & World Cup Final).
.
Taking his place quietly on the bench, Rafa never made a remark, never threw a tantrum and sat quietly on the bench to watch the matches. In some cases, he’d even have to see the matches from the stands or on TV if he wasn’t included in the 18-man squad. We worked his ass off in training and slowly but surely won the favor of his coach. His opportunity finally came when 65m-Euro-man Kaka’s groin injury reared its ugly head. Filling in for the Brazilian in this favored position behind the striker/s, Van Der Vaart played his role very effectively… even scoring some valuable goals in the process (the winner against Sevilla at home). This season was supposed to be the same story for Rafa (with Kaka out for his surgery and wonderkid Canales likely not yet ripe for the full-time job): till Mesut Ozil walked in.
.
The difference this time though is that his wife has already been given a clean bill of health… and for him, an offer from a London-based English Club with Champions League football has come knocking: it is now that much clear that the time is right for him to move. I’m sad to see him go as a Real Madrid fan, but am happy to see him move onto something that suits him better for his sake. Time will only tell if he can manage to fit into Harry Rednapp’s very English 4-4-2… or if he can compete with Luca Mondric for that playmaking position on the squad…but it’s surely better than playing 3rd fiddle behind Ozil & Canales for the meantime… and even further down when Kaka returns.
.
Through all this, Rafa has acted with honor: from his refusal to join city rivals Atletico to speaking only with complements to Real Madrid despite his ordeal. I’ve called him the ‘anti-Robinho’ for it has been very clear that he understands very clearly what the crest on his chest stands for when he wears Real Madrid’s white.
.
.
The conclusion allows Real Madrid to trim their over-sized squad to something Jose Mourinho preferred from the very beginning: 2 players for each position plus 3 goalkeepers (for a total of 23 players): leaving only Diarra V1.0 as the only remaining player on the initial ejection seat remaining on the squad. This has also allowed Jose Mourinho to promote Castilla standout David Mateos to the first team: giving us a canterano who can play both at the heart of the defense and in front of it.
.
Perhaps in the final analysis, we will find departure of the 2 Dutchmen as mere anecdotes to start the season. It’s hard to argue with the arrival of Ozil and Di Maria as replacements for Van Der Vaart and Drenthe afterall. From a much bigger picture however, it will be very interesting to see if the perpetual cycles of player replacements that the club has been instigating annually is all that necessary anyway. Time will tell, and I don’t think it will take long to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment