Football: Roy the rover's big night: Simon O'Hagan meets the flying Dutchman who is preparing to take wing this week

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BRYAN ROY is sitting with his Foggia team-mates in the television lounge of a hotel a few miles outside Parma in northern Italy. It's the night before the Parma-Foggia Serie A match, Roy's last in the league before he joins the Dutch squad for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against England. Naturally, the television is tuned to football - a rainswept Serie B encounter between Pisa and Bari, which Roy shows no reluctance to stop watching. He has seen quite a lot of football already today, including all the goals from the FA Premiership.

'Who's the best player in England?' he asks me. 'Teddy Sheringham?' Sheringham is playing well, yes. Scoring goals. But there's also Ian Wright and Paul Ince and, of course, Ryan Giggs. 'Ah, Ryan Giggs,' Roy says, recognising the name, but not, apparently, much more. 'What position does he play?' He's a left winger, like you. 'And how old is he? Nineteen? Twenty?' He's 19. 'Does he score goals?' Yes, he scores goals. 'He cuts in and scores goals, right? That's the way to do it . . .'

Roy's lack of familiarity with Giggs is perhaps surprising - testament, it would seem, to Alex Ferguson's success in keeping his young star out of the media spotlight. But then Roy probably doesn't need to know much more about him to understand the Giggs phenomenon. He has first-hand experience of that kind of thing. Discovered by Johan Cruyff when he was 12, scorer of a sensational goal on his debut for Ajax at 17, capped at 19, a member of the Dutch World Cup squad in Italy at 20, of their European Championship team in Sweden at 22, and now, still only 23, one of eight elite Dutchmen whose skills illuminate the Italian League, Roy has already achieved so much so quickly that he has no right to be as calm and level-headed as he is. But that's Dutch footballers for you.

There is another side to them, though - the arrogant, individualistic side, which undermined them both at Italia '90 and at last year's European Championship finals - and there are signs that Roy may be part of that tradition, too. A year ago he came seriously unstuck with the Ajax manager, Louis van Gaal. 'I had some tactical problems with him,' Roy explains. 'I'm more a player who plays by intuition, and he wanted me to play more by his system. I didn't feel it was right for my development. In the end the manager and I weren't on speaking terms, so I had to leave.'

It was a sour end to an Ajax career which had started 10 years previously when Cruyff, then still an Ajax player, had seen the 12-year-old Roy shining in junior football in Amsterdam and recommended him to the club's manager, Toni Bruins Slot. Five years later, with Cruyff now the Ajax manager, Roy's spindly, 17-year-old frame was dancing round three FC Twente defenders before he unleashed a superb shot into the top corner. And that was just his first game. Roy, still at school, was Cruyff's golden boy - until the manager left the club three months later. With him went Roy's place in the first team, which it took him as long again to regain.

'I owe Cruyff a lot,' Roy says. 'He gave me self-confidence, which I think is the most important thing for a footballer to have. He taught me a lot of things - the little basic things, positioning, tactical awareness and so on.'

Cruyff, now manager of Barcelona, returns the compliment. In the young Roy he remembers seeing 'an old-fashioned winger, a real specialist, and in Holland we never had many like that'. Cruyff was dismayed when van Gaal decided he could do without Roy. 'It's ridiculous what van Gaal did. It was such a pity for the Dutch public. Roy is the kind of player you want to come and see.'

At Foggia, where the other foreigners are the Argentine defender Jose Antonio Chamot and the Russian forward Igor Kolivanov, Roy cuts a somewhat isolated figure. His colleagues, he says, are just that - not friends. Importantly, though, he has a lot of respect for Foggia's Czech manager, Zdenek Zeman, 'a great tactician, with a cynical sense of humour'. Holding their own at half-way in the table, Foggia are a small club by the standards of Milan or Juventus. Roy, born and brought up in Amsterdam, where his father is an accountant, finds it an unsophisticated place. He is uncomfortable, for example, that 'when guys in Foggia see a beautiful girl, they go crazy'. But unlike some black players, who have come up against racism in Italy, Roy has not suffered in this respect - or, if he has, he has chosen not to make an issue of it. 'It's not a problem for black footballers,' he maintains. 'But it is if you're just a normal citizen who is black.'

Foggia's game at Parma went badly for Roy. He showed how quick, deft, and light on his feet he can be, but never had the chance to run at the defence as the in-form Parma, their brilliant Colombian Faustino Asprilla to the fore, won 3-0. But there was one moment early in the second half - the more striking for its unexpectedness - when Roy, having until then not strayed from the left flank, suddenly appeared in the Parma box and rose beautifully to head what looked a certain goal only for the Parma goalkeeper, diving the wrong way, to pull off a remarkable, one-handed save. England be warned.

Roy, still adjusting to life in Italy, was not in the side when the Netherlands came to Wembley in April - the match in which Marc Overmars forced Des Walker to concede the late penalty which gave the Netherlands a 2-2 draw. On Wednesday, when only a victory will do for the Dutch, much will depend on the wing play of Roy and Overmars. 'We shall attack with great force,' Roy says. 'The Dutch attitude is always, 'It doesn't matter who we are playing, we'll win'. A little bit of arrogance, you know . . .'

(Photograph omitted)