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Van der Vaart signing signals end Ronaldo chase?
by Joe Addison, August 5th, 2008 7AM



Real Madrid's signing of Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart from German side Hamburg SV in a $20 million transfer deal could spell the end of the Spanish champion's protracted pursuit of Portuguese international Cristiano Ronaldo.

Earlier in the summer, Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster put van der Vaart at the top of his transfer list and made it clear that the acquisition of the Dutchman would not be a step down from Ronaldo.

"Ronaldo is the best in the world at the moment," said Schuster, "but if we cannot sign him, then I would be just as happy with Van der Vaart."

Those are lofty words from Schuster, and the 25-year-old van der Vaart may have to immediately back them up by jumping into the lineup to replace international teammate Wesley Sneijder, who injured his knee in a preseason friendly against Arsenal and will miss the first two months of the Spanish season.

Van der Vaart appears to be relishing such a challenge.

"I have always wanted to move to Spain because I have a strong bond with that country," he said referring to his Spanish mother. "Now I'm going to play for Real Madrid. It's a dream come true."

Van der Vaart grew up playing in the Ajax youth academy and spent five years in the club's first team before moving to Hamburg in 2005. In 74 Bundesliga appearances with HSV, he scored 29 goals.

The attacking midfielder led Hamburg to fourth place in the 2007-08 German league season and was also a key figure in his country's dominant victories over France and Italy during Euro 2008.

Van der Vaart will be joining four Dutchmen at Madrid. In addition to Sneijder, he will be teaming up with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben and Royston Drenthe.

Despite the ever-present transfer rumors swirling around the Bernabeu, van der Vaart is only the second player to join Real Madrid during the off-season. Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay signed for the club earlier in the summer.

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