may have claimed he was "no Superman" upon his arrival in Hamburg, but when the Red Shorts were crying out for a saviour, the Dutch master swooped to rescue the Bundesliga's only ever-present club from the grips of what was looking increasingly like another battle against the drop.
'Faster than a speeding bullet' is not a description often used to describe this gifted playmaker, yet while he may not boast superhuman powers, his seemingly telepathic understanding with team-mates on the pitch, as well as his incredible range of vision, have swiftly made van der Vaart the darling of the Imtech Arena crowd.
Of course, for every superhero there is always a leading lady. Superman had Lois Lane and filling that role with aplomb in this story is Sylvie van der Vaart. An avid football fan and someone who can regularly be seen supporting, and fretting over, her husband's fortunes in stadiums around the country, Sylvie is a well-known figure in German football. Her twitter page often contains well wishes for both Rafael and Hamburg and her status within the club was only furthered when she took part in hosting a fashion show during HSV's recent 125th anniversary celebrations.
Though she may be more accustomed to the glamour of red carpet events and featuring on Das Supertalent, one of Germany's many TV casting shows, Sylvie remains very down-to-earth and was in fact one of the key factors in van der Vaart's decision to return to the Bundesliga. "Coming back to Hamburg is a dream come true for me and my family," he acknowledged at the start of his second stint with the club. And while fans and the media have been revelling in the comeback of one of the Bundesliga's power couples, "Rafa" is more interested in his football than being one half of Germany's version of 'Posh and Becks.'
Holding out for a hero
Three defeats to open the season equated to Hamburg's worst start to a league season in 40 years, but that was before van der Vaart arrived. "I know everybody's expecting me to help the team immediately as the leading player, but I'm not Messi or Ronaldo," he said in an attempt to dampen unrealistic expectations. As it turned out, that would prove to be a gross understatement in view of the impact he subsequently made at the club.
Since arriving at the club, van der Vaart has been directly involved in five (one goal, four assists) of the nine goals Hamburg have scored in their last five matches. His spark of ingenuity in the final third and the ability to unlock back lines have transformed HSV's attack. A team that was utterly bereft of confidence and languishing in the depths of the league table is now flying high on a four-match unbeaten run - all since the arrival of the Netherlands international centurion.
"Happy as a kid"
The Bundesliga Dinosaurs are desperate to return to the lofty heights of the past and recent form suggests they may be on the right track. For now, though, all at the club are delighted with what their returning superhero has so far managed to achieve. "What can you say about van der Vaart? He's at the perfect age for a footballer, has experience, assumes responsibility and apart from that is as happy as a kid," sporting director Frank Arnesen noted on the club website.
Club investor and avid HSV fan Klaus-Michael Kühne, who paid a large portion of van der Vaart's transfer fee, was "convinced that this is the start of a better sporting future." The vastly experienced Dutchman has answered the Hamburg's cry for help and, if the last four matches are anything to go by, his super powers can take Hamburg a lot further yet.