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Dec 3, 2008

Huntelaar rides to Real's rescue

Nine times European champions Real Madrid may be a shadow of their former selves in the continent's premier competition but the Spanish club can still swagger around Europe in the transfer market.

The La Liga champions modus operandi appears to be to continually make headline grabbing bids for football's brightest stars but where they failed in their attempts to capture the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Cesc Fabregas they have succeeded with Ajax Amsterdam striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar.

The Dutch international plundered 75 goals in 90 games for Ajax, the club he joined from Heerenveen in 2005, to become one of the hottest properties in Europe and will join Real Madrid in a £17 million move on January 2.

With a number of Real's rivals also believed to have been courting Huntelaar, Madrid's pre-transfer window agreement helps to reinforce their stature in European football and also marks a rare piece of good business for the big-spending Spaniards.

Manchester United, Juventus, Arsenal, Schalke and nouvelle riche Manchester City had all shown an interest in the striker, reportedly drawing bids of up to £34 million during the summer, but the Eredivisie club's decision to keep hold of their star striker has backfired.

The Dutch club's subsequent attempts to persuade Huntelaar to sign a contract extension proved fruitless and with only 18 months remaining on his current deal, and the global financial crisis having a negative affect on the value of their prized asset, Ajax have been forced to sell at a cut price, despite Madrid's desperation to sign the player.

In the midst of an injury crisis at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real president Ramón Calderón promised the Madridistas that he would deliver two new players in the January transfer window who are eligible to play in the Champions League and Huntelaar is one of the few top-rated players who meets that criteria.

The 25-year-old has represented Ajax in the UEFA Cup this season but European football's governing body UEFA have already confirmed that the former PSV Eindhoven youngster is clear to play in the Champions League. Before 2007/08 a player could only represent one club in any European competition in a given season.

With Madrid struggling in La Liga, currently lying in fourth place after a 3-1 defeat to Getafe at the weekend, and eager to make a mark in Europe after years of underachievement, Huntelaar's imminent arrival will provide a timely boost to the club.

It is believed Real had opened talks earlier this year about a prospective move to Madrid next summer for Huntelaar, but they were forced to bring the deal forward by six months following a knee injury to Ruud Van Nistelrooy that ruled the striker out for the season. Huntelaar, who has scored ten goals in 18 games for the Netherlands, has taken over from his countryman in the Dutch national team and Real are hoping he can do the same at the Bernabeu.

The Voor-Drempt born forward ended last season as the Eredivisie's top scorer with 33 goals in 34 games and was made the captain of Ajax for the current campaign by head coach Marco Van Basten. Huntelaar has scored six goals so far this season but has been sidelined since early November with a ligament injury in his left ankle. However, the striker is expected to recover by the middle of December and that would allow a short time for rehabilitation before his January switch.

Huntelaar should have the opportunity to make an immediate impact at the Bernabeu and with 32-year-old Van Nistelrooy sidelined and Raul also on the wrong side of 30 Madrid's strike trio of the future could easily comprise of Gonzalo Higuaín, Rafael Van der Vaart and Huntelaar.

Huntelaar is certainly eager to make an impact. "I'm going to Real Madrid to grow as a player and fight with one of the biggest teams in Europe," he said. "Madrid are one of football's most historical clubs and from now on I hope to make their fans happy by scoring many goals and winning titles."

Despite the unexpectedly quick conclusion to the transaction, Ajax still did their best to spark a last-gasp bidding war for Huntelaar after the Spanish media had incorrectly claimed the deal had been signed and sealed earlier in the week.

In light of the premature claims of AS and Marca, the Dutch club's president Uri Coronel told AD Sportwereld on Monday that "there is no deal and we are not about to close any deal". However, the following morning Ajax released a statement that confirmed they were indeed holding talks with Real Madrid over the possible sale of Huntelaar, presumably with the intention inducing rival bids from other interested parties.

Either no improved bids arrived or Real Madrid moved too quickly to allow their peers to construct a transfer package because by Tuesday evening the Spanish club announced that "Klaas Jan Huntelaar will be tied to Real Madrid until June 30, 2013" subject to passing a medical.

He will become the sixth Dutch player at Madrid, along with Van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, van der Vaart and Royston Drenthe and will provide a much needed positive amid the negativity that has begun to permeate the Bernabeu.

German manager Bernd Schuster is proving unpopular with the both fans and players and has already received two votes of confidence from Calderon - most recently following the defeat to Getafe. Real have also dropped points against the likes of Valladolid and Almeria as their domestic title challenge falters and in the Champions League they have lost to Juventus home and away.

The club's reputation would not handle a further blow particularly well and quite simply they could not afford to miss out on Huntelaar.

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