Van der Vaart's the perfect present
Whatever Harry Redknapp received in his stocking on Christmas Day, it is unlikely to have brought him as much pleasure as the gift Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy delivered to him on the last day of August.
"I've got a present for you," is the line Levy reportedly used when he telephoned Redknapp at 4pm on deadline day to reveal he might be able to wrap up a deal with Real Madrid for Rafael van der Vaart.
After a mad dash through red tape and technical problems the move was completed for a bargain £8m - and Van der Vaart's match-winning display at Aston Villa on Boxing Day confirms that this is the gift that just keeps giving.
Villa manager Gerard Houllier, who faces a mountainous task to reconstruct a squad heavy on potential and endeavour but light on real class, revealed how his own love of the Netherlands star's style had sadly, for him, been unrequited. Painful too, as Van der Vaart's brilliant double demonstrated what might have been.
Houllier said: "He is a fantastic player. He can play different positions up front. He can play off the striker but he is disciplined now to play right or left.
"People who know me from when I was at Liverpool will know I tried to sign him but he was too expensive, then I tried to sign him for Lyon when he was at Hamburg. When we meet now it is funny - we nearly hug each other."
Houllier must have felt like administering a firm kick to the shins rather than a hug on this freezing Birmingham night, but he would have had as much trouble catching the elusive Van der Vaart as his Villa defence.
Van der Vaart's goals either side of the interval were things of footballing beauty and precision. The first was a 23rd-minute side-foot finish from Alan Hutton's cross after Luka Modric's wonderful pass took out a large portion of Aston Villa's rearguard.
The second after 67 minutes, with Spurs down to 10 men after Jermain Defoe's red card for elbowing James Collins just after Van der Vaart's opener, could figure on any dvd of perfect counter-punches.
Van der Vaart started the move near his own area with a flick to Gareth Bale. The Welshman surged away from Villa's defence before finding Aaron Lennon, who looked up to see Van der Vaart still full of energy despite an injury lay-off and ready to beat Brad Friedel with a low effort.
Marc Albrighton's fortunate late goal set up a grandstand finish of sorts, but Spurs survived in a show of character that sits comfortably alongside the quality Redknapp has assembled in his squad.
And for all of Redknapp's attacking riches, Van der Vaart is now ranking alongside Bale as a talisman for a season that holds such rich promise as 2010 turns into 2011.
Van der Vaart has long been regarded as one of Europe's outstanding talents, but under Redknapp he has found a perfect fit, a manager who admires him almost like a fan and relishes having him under his control.
And credit chairman Levy to for concluding a deal that will be the secret envy of pretty much every club in the Premier League, including those with serious trophy aspirations at home and abroad.
Villa's own attacking inspiration Ashley Young, who was missing with a knee injury, is linked with a £13m move to Manchester United and touted as the next big money exit from Villa Park. The fee being bandied around for Young, a player inferior to Van der Vaart in pretty much every respect, puts the wisdom of Spurs' deal into context.
I asked Redknapp whether he was surprised at the ease, and indeed the price, at which Spurs were able to prise Van der Vaart away from the Bernabeu and he told me: "It just shows you there are some good players at places like Real Madrid who don't get in their team that you can pick up if you get the right one."
Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to name but two, but Spurs are more than happy with the one Levy and Redknapp snatched out of The Bernabeu's reject basket.
He added: "He's been fantastic for us. He's a 15/20 goals a year man who has got everything. He is a great lad to work with."
Redknapp was in understandably buoyant mood as Spurs added weight to his argument, one that raised eyebrows in certain quarters, that they can emerge as serious players in the Premier League title story this season.
He made the bold claim in the aftermath of a spectacular victory at Arsenal and provoked some mockery - but no-one should be in any doubt that he has a squad capable of inflicting real damage in and around them at the sharp end of the table.
Outsiders yes, but Redknapp should not be blamed for repeating his optimism after a performance that underlined Spurs' growing maturity as he said: "I think we're massive outsiders - someone said about 33-1 - and that's probably about right, but it is open this year and you have got to believe you can achieve something.
"It is there for someone to have a real crack at it. There isn't a lot between the top five or six and we are playing as well as anybody. We have got players like Van der Vaart and Bale who could get in any side. We have got some quality players throughout the team and we have got a good squad."
The manner in which Spurs coped with a numerical disadvantage for more than an hour confirmed that this is a side with inner steel, resilience and self-belief. And in those closing moments, with Villa buoyed by the prospect of an unlikely equaliser, Spurs could count on the towering figures of Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul and auxiliary defender Peter Crouch to repel a series of desperate attacks.
For Villa and Houllier these are trying times. No-one could question the effort and application, but the class and composure provided by Van der Vaart in front of goal was too much for this under-strength side.
Houllier is struggling to win over Villa fans understandably unimpressed by results after Martin O'Neill's reign and he is faced with a squad in need of a major overhaul. Early evidence suggests Richard Dunne, Stephen Ireland and John Carew will soon be on their way, but much depends on how much owner Randy Lerner is willing to lavish on a rebuilding programme.
The Villa boss remains confident, although he may be erring on the side of optimism when he claims: "There is nothing much different from the first year at Liverpool."
Houllier will need to work the markets as he did then, but there may not be the underlying raw material he had to work with at Anfield. Villa have promising young talent, but there is no emerging Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher, no established Michael Owen or naturally gifted Robbie Fowler.
It is a reign that will require patience, but it is already in short supply at Villa Park as Houllier's new charges settle uncomfortably near the foot of the Premier League.
No such problems for Redknapp and Spurs as they set their sights on success at home and abroad, and perhaps going in search of more presents like Van der Vaart when the transfer window opens imminently.
How Houllier will hope Lerner can produce similar gifts to ignite his reign at Villa Park.