The summer transfer window has for Spurs so far been equivalent to a disconcertingly long and awkwardly silent pause; occasionally, this peace has been punctuated with occasional panics regarding potential sales of key players, with the most recent being the feted Chelsea move for Luka Modric.
On this front, so far, no (real) news has been good news, and in this respect the best result appears to be that Rafael van der Vaart has not been linked with any possible moves away from the club just yet. Indeed, judging by comments he has made throughout the season and beyond, it seems instead that van der Vaart is here to stay, and now it is time to build the team around the specialist skills he can bring to the Lane.
If this season has taught us absolutely nothing else, I feel we should take away insight into Rafa’s proper role as the main lesson. He is, more than anything else a playmaker who should be played in an advanced role just behind the striker. His first touch, vision and finishing prowess make him a perfect centre forward, a point exemplified by moments throughout the season such as Redknapp’s decision to allow him to finish the first half of the Real Madrid match at the Bernabau as a lone forward.
It is for all these reasons that I am absolutely baffled at the way van der Vaart has been slotted into some of the tactics deployed throughout the last months of the campaign. Playing Crouch and Pavlyuchenko up front as part of a 4-4-2, which Redknapp opted to on multiple occasions towards the end of the season, makes absolutely no sense to begin with- with two poachers on the field Spurs tend to display a clear lack of ideas in the face of goal.
Even more importantly, however, the formation implies that van der Vaart is wasted in a right midfielder role which stifles his ability to play to his strengths- he lacks the pace of Aaron Lennon, and forcing him to break in from the wing prevents him from displaying that magical ability to pop up in the right place at the right time to apply the finish. Rafa’s uncomfortable outlook to playing on the right wing has been illustrated by a number of drifting, less convincing performances.
By contrast, 4-4-1-1 has been the setup deployed in some of Spur’s most prolific wins this year. It is the formation that places van der Vaart in his proper role and permits him to serve in the correct way as an assistant to the striker or as a hitman in the face of goal.
No matter who ends up spearheading our attacks next season, be in Leandro or Drogba, we must ensure that Rafa’s quality as an advanced playmaker in the centre of the field is respected, and that tactics are structured around letting the key player provide the key contributions that he is capable of offering.