'I just have to stop now' - Former Madrid & Tottenham star Van der Vaart confirms retirement

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The Dutchman has called time on an illustrious 18-year career at the age of 35 following a recent injury during his spell at Danish side Esbjerg

Rafael van der Vaart has confirmed his retirement from professional football following an illustrious career with the likes of Ajax, Hamburg, Real Madrid and Tottenham.

The 35-year-old Dutchman has been on the books at Danish club Esbjerg fB since August, but has made just three appearances since his arrival, and is unwilling to waste his year-long contract in rehabilitation if he is unable to contribute to side following a recent training-ground injury.

He told De Telegraaf : "I just have to stop now. I am not here to rehabilitate, but to play football. The fun will be different and that's what I want to be. I wanted to become a football grandpa, but unfortunately that is not the case.

“At this moment I can only be grateful for all the years I was allowed to play football. All those players, staff and fans, from the ArenA, the Volksparkstadion, White Hart Lane to the Bernabeu, I just have warm feelings about it. It was a great time.”

The playmaker made his debut for Ajax as a 17-year-old, making 117 appearances and winning the Eredivisie title twice before moving to Hamburg in 2005. A hugely successful stay in Germany was followed by positive spells at Real Madrid and Tottenham , before returning to the Volksparkstadion for a second stint in 2012.

Since 2015, Van der Vaart has struggled for game time, taking in brief spells with Real Betis, FC Midtjylland, and finally Esbjerg.

Looking back fondly on his career, Van der Vaart, who was expected to retire at the end of this season, said: "I won prizes and played in championships, both with my clubs, the Dutch national team and individually. In all those years I have been able to play football with and against so many great players in the most beautiful stadiums.

“I had never dared to dream of that as a young boy."

Van der Vaart was handed his international debut by Louis van Gaal in 2001, and he went on to be capped 109 times by his country, putting him fourth in the Netherlands national team's all-time appearance charts.

He represented the Netherlands at three European Championships and two World Cups, and ended the 2010 final against Spain as captain following the loss of Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

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