A product of Ajax's famous youth academy, Van der Vaart made his debut for the Amsterdam club in the 1999-2000 season, aged 17, in a 1-1 draw with FC Den Bosch. Much of his early career was blighted by a series of knee injuries which saw him spend several months out of the first team. He made an average of only 23 appearances a season in five years with Ajax before leaving the club in the summer of 2005.
From Ajax he headed to the Bundesliga with Hamburg, a surprising move for a player who had been linked with much bigger clubs. He helped Hamburg to three successful seasons, qualifying for the UEFA Cup and being named the club's skipper, before he got the big move that was always expected. He went to Real in the summer of 2008 but, despite establishing himself on the international stage at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup, he was reduced to a bit-part role and chose to move to Spurs in August 2010.
He proved to be an inspired acquisition by Harry Redknapp and was widely regarded as the signing of the season after contributing 15 goals and nine assists in his debut campaign in the Premier League. Though concerns about injuries saw his playing time reduced in 2011-12 - he was regularly Spurs' first player to be substituted - the Dutchman still helped himself to another 13 goals and remained an influential figure.
Strengths: A versatile midfielder, good shooting, set piece specialist and a potential match-winner.
Weaknesses: Suspect in the air, his consistency has also been called into question.
Career high: Named the 2003 European Young Player of the Year.
Career low: Being left without a squad number at the start of the 2009-10 season with Real Madrid when told he was surplus to requirements.
Style: Versatile, classy, an excellent passer of the ball.
Quotes: "Rafael is different class, especially the way he plays off the front man, finds little pockets and just picks up the ball. He goes quite deep and is a fantastic player. He picks up possession and creates things from nothing." Former Spurs team-mate Peter Crouch.
Trivia: His wife, Sylvie, has claimed that the player's legs are too heavy and they cannot sleep in the same bed. "It's just as well," she says. "His legs are heavy. If I get under them I can't get out."