Football: Dutch suffer talent drain

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The Independent Online
THE DUTCH Champions Ajax open their title defence at home to Willem II Tiburg today with plenty of problems on their hands. Brothers Ronald and Frank De Boer have launched a legal battle to be released from their contracts with the Amsterdam club - with Arsenal the preferred destination for Ronald and Barcelona the ideal choice for Frank, who was outstanding in France 98 - Holland's most successful World Cup campaign for 20 years.

Only a controversial decision in the dying seconds of normal time in the semi-final denied the Dutch a place in the World Cup final for the third time. Nottingham Forest misfit Pierre van Hooijdonk was booked for play-acting altough television replays showed that he had been fouled in the penalty area. Brazil won the penalty shoot-out that followed after extra-time.

The relative success of Guus Hiddink's national side has meant a drain of the domestic game's top players who have followed Hiddink abroad. Hiddink is now in charge of European Champions Real Madrid.

Eighteen of Hiddink's World Cup 22 now ply their trade outside Holland and no coach has felt the effect of the football equivalent of the brain drain more than former England manager Bobby Robson's PSV Eindhoven, who have lost the services of five of their leading lights.

Robson, returning for his second spell in charge at PSV, has been deprived of the services of Phillip Cocu and Boudewijn Zenden, who have moved to Barcelona - ironically the club Robson left at the end of last season. Jaap Stam became the world's most expensive defender when Manchester United were persuaded to part with pounds 10m for him. Wim Jonk was Danny Wilson's first recruit at Sheffield Wednesday while Arthur Numan linked up again with former PSV manager Dick Advocaat at Rangers.

The other traditional giants of Dutch football, Feyenoord, lost Giovanni van Bronckhorst - another Advocaat purchase.

In Germany, Hamburg face Bochum this afternoon with the former Leeds striker Tony Yeboah back in form though midfielder Thomas Doll and Danish defender Jakob Friss-Hansen are still not fit. Bochum also have injury worries with midfielder Maurizio Gaudino and Thomas Stickroth both sidelined.

In France, the champions Lens are still looking for their first win after the first day setback at Toulouse was followed by last week's draw with Lorient. They face Sochaux, who name the former Lens striker Sebastien Dallet in their side.