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Van der Vaart: I was fed up with warming Real's bench

When Real Madrid tossed Wesley Sneijder onto their unwanted pile last summer, they were not expecting the Dutch maestro to return to the Spanish capital at the end of the season and clinch Champions League glory.

As it turned out, Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan's finest hour, at the Santiago Bernabeu last May, also represented the ultimate riposte for a player whose rejection had inspired him to chase the plaudits with some starring displays in Europe's showpiece competition.

You would have thought that Real Madrid would have been reluctant to set up the possibility of a repeat plotline after offloading one Netherlands superstar prematurely, and yet that is what they agreed to when they sold Rafael van der Vaart to Tottenham at the start of September.

Clearly, Mourinho didn't view Van der Vaart as a reincarnation of the Dutch midfielder who helped him conquer Europe last season, as he sanctioned the deal that saw the 27-year-old sign for Spurs in the final minutes before the transfer window slammed shut.

Yet Van der Vaart's sublime performance in Tottenham's opening Champions League game against Werder Bremen a couple of weeks ago suggests he might just emerge as the best buy in the Premier League this season, with his £8 million fee looking like a bargain already.

Showing immaculate touch and an impressive work rate as he excelled in his favoured position behind lone striker Peter Crouch, Van der Vaart looked a class above everyone on the pitch as Harry Redknapp's side threatened to overwhelm Bremen with a clinical first half display.

A minor injury meant his master class had to be halted after 49 minutes and his departure came just as Spurs threw away a stunning start to surrender their two-goal lead in Germany, finishing with a 2-2 draw on their first night as a Champions League team.

Even though disappointment may have lingered in the air after their near miss in Germany, Tottenham's former Ajax and Hamburg star had put down his marker for all to see as he gave notice that he will be a force to be reckoned with this season.

"The first half performance in Germany showed that this Tottenham side are good enough to do well in the Champions League and this is what I expected when I agreed to come here," he says.

"People say a move from Real Madrid to Spurs is a step down and it is hard to argue against this, but it is a step up if I am going to be playing every week and this is why I have come to England.

"There has been talk that I would play in the Premier League for many years and this seemed like the right moment for it to happen. Chelsea were interested in me at one time, but it never happened and now I'm happy to be with Spurs.

"The trouble for me at Real Madrid was I realised it was not worth fighting any more. Sure, I could have been a substitute, coming on sometimes when players were tired or injured, but I wanted more.

"Arguing with the coach is useless and it got me nowhere in my days at Ajax, so moving clubs was the best solution for everyone. I was fed up waiting to get a chance to play every week, but the wait has come to an end now. Maybe I can be motivated to prove some people wrong at Real Madrid by having some good times with Tottenham and, if this is the case, it can only be good for my new club. "Spurs are in the Champions League and that's obviously an important reason to come here, but I also believe they have a team that can win trophies. I have not won anything for a long time in my career, so this is my target at Tottenham."

Van der Vaart shies away from suggestions that his transfer could be the prelude to him following in Sneijder's footsteps by succeeding after leaving Real Madrid, with rumours that he has grown tired of living in the shadow of Dutch football's golden boy refusing to disperse.

He will not have to worry about his demoted status at his new club as Van der Vaart instantly became the star name in Harry Redknapp's squad when he signed, with the Spurs boss confirming as much as he has remodelled his team to accommodate his Dutchman.

Playing with a 4-5-1 formation and offering Van der Vaart the chance to play as an attacking creative force, the Tottenham boss seems determined to build his team around his new boy and yet his first few weeks in England have been a tale of uncertainty for his new club.

A draw against West Brom on his Premier League debut was followed up by an unconvincing win over Wolves a week later and they head into their next Champions League game against FC Twente on Wednesday after a disappointing 1-0 defeat at West Ham.

It's hardly a sequence likely to convince the doubters that Tottenham are destined to establish themselves as regular top-four side, but Van der Vaart seems confident that their future will be bright once they find the right balance in their talented squad.

"I have come to the club at a moment when they are looking to take on higher challenges and we should be aiming to achieve great things this season," he says. "I look at the talent of the players in this Spurs squad and everything should be possible.

"I don't see it as an automatic situation that I will be in the team every week, but my intention is to make sure the manager finds it difficult to substitute me or leave me on the bench. I have had enough of that in the last year or so."

The millionaire lifestyle Van der Vaart now enjoys is a long way from the challenging childhood he experienced back home in the Netherlands, though he believes his upbringing on a caravan site helped him to build up his hunger to succeed in life.

"I didn't have a problem living in a caravan when I was a kid and it meant I developed a character that made me fight for everything," he says. "I had to work hard to prove I was worth my place in the team at Ajax and then the rewards came.

"Buying my parents their first house with the money I was making from football was a special moment for me and the success I have enjoyed has changed my family's life forever. This has to be my greatest achievement."

Those who have set eyes on Van der Vaart's stunning wife, Sylvie, may beg to differ when he suggests investing in a home for his parents was his finest achievement, with his model and television star other half a glamorous addition to the London showbiz scene.

"I don't think my wife quite believed it when I said we were moving to London as the transfer happened very quickly in the end," he says. "She accepts this is part of my job and we have moved to a great city.

"People have said my wife is more famous than me in some ways, so this is something I have to put right at Tottenham! If I can win trophies here, maybe my face will be in the newspapers more than hers for a change."

Having started at rock bottom and worked his way to the very top, Van der Vaart appreciates the privileges he now revels in. Tottenham are fortunate to have landed this hungry, gifted midfielder at the peak of his powers.


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