Cristiano Ronaldo should have followed the lead of eternal rival Lionel Messi and stayed at Real Madrid, claims Rafael van der Vaart.
Having sparked talk of a move elsewhere on the back of a third successive Champions League triumph with the Blancos, the Portuguese superstar duly departed the Santiago Bernabeu in July.
A €112m (£101m/$130m) deal took the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to Juventus, with a record-breaking and goal-laden nine-year spell in the Spanish capital brought to a close.
Ronaldo’s decision to take on a new challenge at 33 years of age came as a surprise to many, with Van der Vaart among those who feel he should have displayed the same loyalty to Madrid as Messi has to Barcelona.
The former Blancos midfielder told Ukrainian news outlet Football .ua: “You know, guys like Messi… Messi will never leave Barcelona.
“I’m slightly sad about Ronaldo’s departure.”
Van der Vaart was on the books in Madrid when Ronaldo made a big-money arrival in the summer of 2009.
His signing was a contributing factor to the creative playmaker eventually moving on to Tottenham, but the Dutchman has no regrets at having spent two seasons at the Bernabeu.
Van der Vaart admits there was initially rival interest in his signature as he prepared to leave Hamburg, but there was only ever one destination in La Liga that appealed to him.
He added: “I do not know anything about [interest from] Atletico Madrid. Valencia – yes, they wanted to buy me and were ready to pay big money, but Hamburg refused. So I said ‘okay’ and stayed.
“And then when Real Madrid came it was an easy decision, especially considering that my mother is from Spain and I’m half Spanish. My family still lives there, so it was just fantastic.
“It is the greatest club in the world, so it was something special.
“Real are the only club whose shirt I wore every day and thought: ‘Wow, I did it!’. That is what is so great about Real Madrid.”
Van der Vaart is currently turning out in Danish football, with the 35-year-old having penned a one-year deal with Esbjerg this summer after reaching the end of his contract at FC Midtjylland.