New deals for Ajax duo

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AJAX have headed off the threat posed from European vultures by striking a new deal with Rafael van der Vaart and also securing Nigel de Jong to a new contract.

The Amsterdam outfit had been talking to talented attacker van der Vaart about an extension for some time, but negotiations appeared to reach an impasse last month.

Ajax wanted their prized asset to sign an extension, but the player was unwilling to commit his long-term future to the club. 

The young Dutch international has been targeted by the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid, and recently expressed a desire to play in Spain.

Ajax were aware of the interest from all over Europe, and have moved to head off the prospect of losing the 19-year-old by improving his contract, with the youngster receiving a substantial wage increase.

This compromise has clearly pleased the teenager, who came through the ranks of the club`s famed youth academy, as he has pledged to stay with the Amsterdammers until at least the summer of 2004, meaning Ajax will receive a large windfall if he does move on before the expiry of his contract in 2006.

"I am really happy, the rumors can now stop," he told the club`s website.

"I have to say the negotiations were very good.

"I never thought we couldn't come to an agreement, because I prefer a longer stay at Ajax for one year.

"Now I can fully concentrate on my football.

"First I have to come back (to fitness), then we can have a small party."

Van der Vaart has been plagued by injuries this term, but the contract extension could provide a timely boost as he attempts to return to an Ajax team that is battling for honours both domestically and in Europe.

Ronald Koeman`s side impressed against Arsenal in the Champions League on Tuesday and van der Vaart will hope he can return to the team soon and challenge for honours

De Jong has handed the club a second boost by signing a new contract.

The youngster has made a deep impression on the Ajax coaching staff this term, and caught the eye by scoring against Arsenal on Tuesday.

Talks have been ongoing for some time, with the club finally securing the player`s services until 2006 on Friday.

Ajax technical director Leo Beenhakker said: "This is a great day for Ajax.

"Both Nigel de Jong and Rafael van der Vaart are two great talents for Ajax."   

Other Ajax youngsters including Hatem Trabelsi and Steve Pienaaar are also looking for improved contracts and will be buoyed by the news that their team-mates have struck deals.