Last week a friend suggested that Tottenham Hotspur would not progress as a team until they got rid of Rafael Van der Vaart. It seemed a radical and harsh view considering the Dutchman’s outstanding contribution last year, but having mulled it over, there is certainly a case to be made.
The most important thing is to see past his individual talent and consider the effect he has on the team as a whole, after all, no individual is bigger or better than the team (a fact that Van der Vaart could be reminded of from time to time). So did the team perform better with him or without him?
In the league Tottenham performed considerably worse. They scored 12 less goals (55 compared to 67) than they did in the 09/10 campaign and finished the season with 8 less points (62 points compared to 70 the season before). Had they secured 70 points last season Tottenham would once again be in the Champions League. Of course it’s a valid point that Tottenham’s European run may have detracted from their league form, but to what extent it did or didn’t is hard to know and Tottenham were supposed to have a squad capable of approaching both competitions anyway.
The drop in goals has been attributed to the poor form and standard of finishing of our strikers. Whilst no-one will deny that they were wasteful, (particularly against poorer teams at home), Van der Vaart was also part of this wasteful attack for the entire season. His return of 13 goals was good but not remarkable considering the sacrifices made to accommodate him. It is important to remember that it is not Van der Vaart who has pushed Tottenham back, but Redknapp’s inability to fit him into his previous system. Defoe, kept out of the team by Van der Vaart, went from scoring 24 goals in 09/10 to 9 in 10/11.
It was Redknapp’s responsibility to take a talent like Van der Vaart and somehow squueze it into the already successful model, thus making the team better. Redknapp failed to do this entirely or perhaps did not even attempt it. He just dropped a striker and whacked Van der Vaart in. (He’s never claimed to be a tactical genius). The problem is, Van der Vaart needs discipline. If he’s playing off the big man there’s no point in him spending half the match spraying Hollywood passes from a deep-lying midfield position. Redknapp, as though daunted by suddenly having an established star in his squad, just gave him a free role and waited for the magic to happen. Van Der Vaart himself said there didn’t really seem to be any tactics, his performances seem to confirm this.
(Unfortunately Redknapp also gave Luka Modric a free role and whilst the Croatian may have more positional discipline, it doesn’t stop the two of them drifting into each other’s space all the time).
If Redknapp can actually work out a way to fit Van der Vaart into his team without compromising on strikers or the whole shape and structure of the team. i.e. give Van der Vaart a defined, disciplined midfield role, then perhaps the goals will flow again for Tottenham, of course that leads us back to the age old problem of where do you fit him in. It wouldn’t hurt if Redknapp took a little longer to think it over this season.