De Boers join Barcelona after long dispute


Ronald and Frank de Boer have become the latest members of Barcelona's Dutch colony by joining the Spanish club from Ajax Amsterdam for £22 million.

Ajax announced the news in a brief statement, adding that the players, currently on tour in South Africa, would join Barcelona immediately.

The agreement, still to be confirmed by Barcelona, ends a long dispute between the two Dutch internationals and the Amsterdam club.

This summer the twins said they wanted to leave, despite having signed a contract in March 1997 until 2004. When Ajax objected, they vowed never again to wear the Ajax colours and refused to train with the club from July until September.

Then club and players reached a compromise. The brothers agreed to play out the season with Ajax, while the club said it would work on a transfer for the end of it.

The row flared up again recently as Frank de Boer urged Ajax to agree to let him and his brother go by the end of the Dutch winter break. Ajax yesterday blamed Barcelona for holding up the deal.

"From the first moment, we worked with Barcelona on the basis of both De Boers going," club secretary Arie van Os said.

"In November, they offered a sum that was lower than that agreed by the arbitration committee: then they were interested in just taking Frank de Boer. Yesterday, at six o'clock, they realised that was impossible and Ajax got the price they wanted," he said.

Van Os said the club regretted their departure, but welcomed the transfer given the circumstances. "We're certainly not the losers, although I don't talk about winners. We did at least prove that there is value in a contract. Otherwise, other players and business managers might have got the idea that they could just leave," Van Os said.

The Spanish season's transfer window closed at midnight last night and Barcelona coach Louis van Gaal will be delighted to have captured two of the stars of the Netherlands' 1998 World Cup side.

The brothers played under Van Gaal at Ajax. The three were all involved in the club's European Cup triumph in 1995.

The arrival of left-footed centreback Frank and midfielder Ronald brings the number of Dutch players on the playing staff at Barcelona to eight, plus van Gaal and three assistants, including Ronald Koeman.

Although the coach has been criticised for his penchant for compatriots, Barcelona's need for a high-class defender and a midfield linchpin was brought into sharp relief during their unsuccessful Champions' League campaign.