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Aug 20, 2009

Madrid's Dutch-detox

After Real Madrid plundered the summer transfer market and filled the dressing room with new stars, it's now time for the Spanish club to prune their squad down. With the season kicking off in a week's time the Dutch contingent are being pushed out of the door.

The 'Galáctico 2.0' project of Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez filled the headlines across the world with the arrivals of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kakà, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema, followed by lesser lights Raúl Albiol, Álvaro Arbeloa, Esteban Granero, Ezequiel Garay and Álvaro Negredo. Now he has to reduce the Merengue multitude to a comfortable amount for coach Manuel Pellegrini.

"It's now time to let people out before people come in," as the general secretary at Real, Jorge Valdano, put it. However, it's proving a tougher task to let go of some of their players than it was to sign four of the best footballers in Europe earlier this summer.

During the last couple of seasons, it was the Dutch who grabbed the limelight at the Santiago Bernabéu. Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Royston Drenthe joined the Spanish club in 2007 and formed a new Dutch quartet alongside Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who signed in 2006, before it became a quintet when Rafael Van Der Vaart signed last summer. The new tendency at the club brought back memories of FC Barcelona, with a long tradition in Netherlands talent crowding the Camp Nou, especially under coach Louis Van Gaal in the late 90s.

Despite the promising outcome, the newcomers couldn't match Van Nistelrooy's outstanding performance at Real Madrid of 45 goals in 67 league games over three seasons but even after the former Manchester United striker's serious knee injury last November, neither Robben, Sneijder or Van Der Vaart managed to keep the Dutch end up. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a sixth Dutchman, arrived at the club in January to blast eight goals in 20 league games, and proved to be an able candidate to take over from the aging strikers.

The new summer signings have dented the hopes of the Dutch one by one. Even when Pellegrini said that "a lot of people may think that all the Dutch players will leave Madrid, but that's not true, especially when it comes to Sneijder, a player that is very useful for the team", the arrival of Karim Benzema meant the first to leave was Huntelaar, who joined AC Milan. The remainder of the contingent fears it will be their turn next.

After spending record amounts of cash on new blood, Madrid are counting on balancing the books by selling their Dutch ensemble, which cost the club just under €120m (€15m for Van Nistelrooy, €36m for Robben, €27m for Sneijder, €13m for Van Der Vaart and €27m for Huntelaar) in the last three years.

Despite Van Nistelrooy's situation being different to that of his colleagues as he's still recovering from a knee injury, the striker made a point of telling them to leave Madrid. "My colleagues have great objectives and one of them is to make it to the 2010 World Cup. If they get an offer from an important club, then they should accept".

The next to take up Ruud's advice could be Wesley Sneijder. Currently in talks with Inter Milan, the former Ajax midfielder has lost his place to Xabi Alonso and Kakà and, after 22 league games last term, his chances of playing this season are extremely slight. The same goes for Rafael Van Der Vaart. The attacking midfielder admitted that "the coach has told me that I will be on the bench for most of the season so I don't think there's any chance I will be staying at the club". Having taken David Beckham's number 23, Rafa played 32 games last season, 17 of them as a substitute.

Pellegrini has opted to keep Drenthe for the moment, though the Dutch defender will be third choice left-back after Albiol and Marcelo this term. When Van Nistelrooy recovers he will probably be put on the market in the winter transfer window. As for Robben, his injury problems have cast a shadow of doubt over his future at the club. In heavy competition with Cristiano Ronaldo, it was a question of the right offer coming Madrid's way for the midfielder and in its absence, Robben seems to have won the battle and will remain at the club for the moment.

Whether Real Madrid succeed in their Dutch-detox plan or not, the futures of the Holland contingent in La Liga look uncertain with the remaining quintet counting the hours (or months) before their final farewell to the Santiago Bernabéu.

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