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Time for van der Vaart to live up to his potential
Rafael van der Vaart
If Rafael van der Vaart impresses for the Netherlands in Portugal next month, it is likely he will make a swift return to the Iberian peninsula on a more permanent basis.

The versatile 21-year-old Ajax Amsterdam captain has already attracted attention from some of Europe's biggest clubs including Manchester United, but his background -- his mother is Spanish and his grandparents live in Spain -- is likely to influence a move to the Primera Liga when he eventually goes overseas.

Despite his relative youth, van der Vaart is already regarded as the biggest talent in the Dutch side and his relationship with Dutch soap

star Sylvie Meijs has seen him compared to England's David Beckham in more ways than one.

Though he has already made a big name for himself on the international stage, his career has been beset by knee injuries which cost him 40 league appearances in his first four seasons and could yet seriously curtail his obvious potential.

That potential was on show when the Netherlands demolished Scotland 6-0 in the second leg of the playoffs to clinch a place in the European finals last November.

After a 1-0 defeat at Hampden Park, where van der Vaart sat out the first leg on the bench, Dutch coach Dick Advocaat decided to play him and his 18-year-old Ajax team mate Wesley Sneijders from the start in the return, in place of Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert.

Sneijders and Van der Vaart took control of the game and the manner of the victory has been seen as heralding the start of an exciting new dawn for the Dutch side.

Van der Vaart made his first appearance for Ajax four years ago. Despite his talent, his positional versatility has also proved to be a slight disadvantage.

He can play as a central midfielder or on the left flank, while he also seems perfectly suited for the spot behind the central attacker -- or even as the front man himself.

Despite missing so many games through injury, he has scored 45 goals for Ajax in 94 league matches, including 18 in the 21 games he played last season.

He made his international debut in October 2001 at home against Andorra and after a stop-start international career, is now ready to make a real impression in Portugal.
- Theo Ruizenaar




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