Football: Nou Camp becomes Little Holland

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BARCELONA, who are Manchester United's first opponents in the Champions' League, begin the defence of their Spanish Championship at Racing Santander today leaning more heavily than ever on their Dutch influences.

Late on Friday, just one hour before the Spanish transfer deadline expired at midnight, they secured the services of Holland's World Cup striker Patrick Kluivert from Milan in an pounds 8.75m deal. The transfer means that the 22-year-old Kluivert will link up again with his former coach Louis van Gaal, who helped the player's rise to the international squad while at Ajax of Amsterdam. "He was fantastic in that first year at Ajax," Van Gaal said. "He has the potential to score a huge amount of goals for us and that's why we've signed him." Kluivert, however, will not be eligible to play in the Champions' League until the new year.

The Barcelona director Joan Gaspart had originally discussed the deal with Milan's Adriano Galliani in Monaco during the European Cup draw on Thursday. Gaspart said: "We have signed Kluivert on a four-year contract... but we hope he stays with us for many more seasons to come. We all know he is a great player, an exceptional player, and I'm just glad we have been able to bring him here now."

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, Barcelona have traditionally looked to Holland for the backbone of their side. But the club's supporters, fiercely proud of their Catalan heritage, might be forgiven for renaming the Nou Camp stadium "Little Holland", judging by Van Gaal's close-season transfer policy.

The Dutch World Cup players Boudewijn Zenden and Phillip Cocu are also among the new recruits for the champions and Van Gaal has been engaged in a long battle to bring the De Boer twins, Ronald and Frank, from Ajax, although that avenue now seems closed to the coach. Already at the club were the Dutch goalkeeper Ruud Hesp and the defenders Michael Reiziger and Winston Bogarde.

The influx of Van Gaal's countrymen has left home-grown players, such as the fans' favourite Ivan de la Pena, with no option but to leave. De la Pena, dubbed "The Little Buddha", has moved to Lazio in Italy. Another home-grown product, Albert Ferrer, is now at Chelsea while Fernando Couto, Guillermo Amor and Juan Pizzi have also departed. The Brazilian trio of Rivaldo, Giovanni and Sonny Anderson remain at the Nou Camp.

Barca's bitter rivals Real Madrid, who lost 1-0 to Chelsea in the European Super Cup on Friday, have also gone Dutch with the appointment of the head coach Guus Hiddink, who led Holland to the semi-finals of France 98. Hiddink's main capture has been the Croatian Robert Jarni, from Real Betis via Coventry. The biggest coup has been accomplished by Real Betis, who have purchased Brazil's Denilson for a world record pounds 22m. His fleeting, but bamboozling, appearances in France 98 have given Spanish fans a mouth- watering taste of what is to come.