Joining Tottenham was best thing to happen to me - Rafael van der Vaart
Rafael van der Vaart says that he has no regrets about joining Tottenham ahead of Arsenal, saying moving to White Hart Lane was the best move of his career.
Dutch legend Van der Vaart also said in an interview with FourFourTwo he regretted leaving Spurs two years later but admitted Andre Villas-Boas was not the right manager for him.
The one-time World Cup finalist joined Spurs from Real Madrid on transfer deadline day in August 2010 and instantly became a fan-favourite in North London, where he scored 28 goals in 77 appearances.
"[Joining Arsenal] did get mentioned," Van der Vaart revealed. "I had several conversations with Robin van Persie, my teammate with the Dutch side, and he'd spoken to Arsenal about me a few times, but I never heard anything. I didn't regret it -- joining Spurs was the best thing that happened to me.
He added: "It was very last minute. Jose Mourinho [then Real boss] had been honest about my chances at Real Madrid, telling me they'd bought Mesut Ozil to play in my position.
"He said I could stay, but that I wasn't in his starting XI. At that point I was still keen to stay at Real for another season, so I headed to a training camp with the national team.
"But at around 4 p.m. on deadline day, my lawyer called me to say Spurs were interested in signing me. I asked him if I could think about it. He replied that I had to decide within two hours! I started to evaluate everything, then took a little nap.
"Suddenly I was jolted awake by the phone going off. It was about 5.40 p.m. and my lawyer was on the phone again, telling me that I had to decide there and then. I thought for a split second, then said, "Yeah, let's do it!" I had no time to overthink it or discuss it with anybody -- it was pure intuition.
"Very soon I realised how happy I was with the decision. From the moment I arrived at Spurs Lodge, the club's former training ground, I felt at home."
Van der Vaart's cult status at Spurs was enhanced by his performances against Arsenal and he scored four goals in as many North London derby appearances, including the equaliser in a famous 3-2 win at the Emirates Stadium.
"I never had anything against Arsenal, but when I joined Spurs I tried to learn about the club's traditions and I soon found out about the magnitude of the match," he said. "I always try to immerse myself in the emotions of the fans, and in the derbies against Arsenal I tried to give Spurs fans a little bit of their pride back. I wanted them to have something to cheer about at work the next morning."
After Harry Redknapp's sacking as Spurs boss, he was replaced by Andre Villas-Boas, who bought Gylfi Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim before allowing Van der Vaart to return to former club Hamburg.
"Andre Villas-Boas wasn't the ideal coach for me," the Dutchman said. "He bought Gylfi Sigurdsson and then told me he would be his new No.10. I found that a little bit strange considering what I'd achieved over the previous two years.
"I started the first match of the season on the subs' bench, so when Hamburg approached me, I thought it was a nice opportunity to go back. But I shouldn't have left Tottenham, though it's always easy to say that with hindsight."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.