x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Huntelaar to rescue for Real

Hernan Crespo, Carlos Tevez, Dani Guiza and David Villa have all been linked with a January move to Real Madrid.

Ajax forward Klass Jan Huntelaar, right, will join Real to fill the boots of injured striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Ajax forward Klass Jan Huntelaar, right, will join Real to fill the boots of injured striker Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Hernan Crespo, Carlos Tevez, Dani Guiza and David Villa have all been linked with a January move to Real Madrid. All have been sounded out by Real's puppet publication, Marca. If the players weren't quoted, friends stated that they were "flattered" by Real's interest.

The Spanish champions are desperate for a new striker. With nine first-team regulars injured - the most serious the season-long absentee Ruud van Nistelrooy - Real have seen their form dip alarmingly, their recent unimpressive record over the last nine games reading: W4, D1, L4. Unglamorous conquerors include third division Irun, Getafe and Valladolid, as the pressure intensifies on coach Bernd Schuster. The usually self-assured German has increasingly cut a forlorn figure, but he has never cracked.

Instead, Schuster has bemoaned the injuries and talked of January arrivals. True to his word, Real announced that the 25-year-old Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has signed and will be unveiled to the world's press today. Huntelaar has been at Ajax since 2005, where he was twice the Eredivisie's leading scorer. His strike-rate of 79 goals in 97 appearances for the Amsterdam club is even more impressive than Van Nistelrooy's, the man Huntelaar will replace. It's a predicament Huntelaar knows well for he filled Van Nistelrooy's boots at PSV Eindhoven in 2000 when Ruud moved to Manchester United.

Real have signed him until 2013 for ?20 million (Dh93m), with a further ?7m dependent on performances. Ajax are reluctant sellers and coach Marco Van Basten wanted him to stay until the end of the season, but Real, needing him sooner, turned the screw. With just one fit striker, the diminutive Argentinian Javier Saviola, Huntelaar can't arrive soon enough, though he is currently recovering from injury himself. It helps too that Ajax did not qualify for the Champions League, so the 6ft 1in forward is eligible for the knockout round.

Huntelaar will be in good company among the Dutch enclave in Castile. I visited Van Nistelrooy at Real's training ground earlier this year. "My close friends here are the other Dutch players: Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Royston Drenthe and Wesley Snijder," said the Dutchman. "It used to be that Barcelona had a lot of Dutch players - a legacy that went back to Johann Cruyff. Now it's Madrid. We meet a lot outside of football with our families. I have a great relationship with them. We're the Dutch community of Spain and we've found it very easy to settle. But it's important to mix too. We all speak Spanish, we all integrate."

Huntelaar will boost the numbers of this exclusive set. Fourth in the league, Real hope he will bolster their ailing attack and with sporting director Predrag Mijatovic stating "We hope to bring fans a second new player in January," he's unlikely to be the only new arrival. amitten@thenational.ae