Rivals apply finishing touches

Summer is a frenetic time in the European transfer market and this year has been no exception, with many a deal being sealed across the continent in the last few weeks. Here to help you keep track of all the latest ins and outs is FIFA.com.

No strangers to high-profile signings, Real Madrid bolstered their attacking options by recruiting Netherlands international Rafael van der Vaart. A high-class performer for Hamburg over the last three seasons, the prolific playmaker is the latest addition to the growing Dutch colony at the Santiago Bernabeu. The club's Brazilian contingent has, by contrast, been reduced courtesy of the departure of Julio Baptista to Roma. Aiming to win their third La Liga title in a row, Los Merengues will face stiff opposition as usual from Sevilla, who have drafted in the tireless Aldo Duscher from Racing Santander to stiffen their midfield. Also hoping to mount a challenge are Valencia, who have filled the gap left by the retiring Santiago Canizares by hiring the services of Brazil's Olympic goalkeeper Renan Brito.

One keeper heading out of Spain is Real Zaragoza's Cesar Sanchez. After experiencing relegation with the Los Maños last season, the veteran decided to team up with compatriot Juande Ramos at Tottenham Hotspur. Another Spanish talent to try his luck elsewhere is Jose Antonio Reyes, who has made the switch to Benfica after a forgettable year with Atletico Madrid. Defensive midfielder Marc Crosas has swapped the stripes of Barcelona for the famous hoops of Celtic, while Argentinian centre-half Fabricio Coloccini has called time on a four-year spell with Deportivo La Coruna to join Newcastle United.

The Magpies are not the only English club to reinforce their rearguard. Portsmouth swooped for Spurs' French defender Younes Kaboul, while the newly-promoted duo of West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City have brought in the Ivorian Abdoulaye Meite from Bolton Wanderers and the Senegalese Amdy Faye from Charlton Athletic respectively. Aston Villa have opted for a complete defensive makeover by signing the Spaniard Carlos Cuellar from Rangers, Luke Young from Middlesbrough and Reading's Nicky Shorey. Last but not least, Fulham have invested in the services of 37-year-old Swiss goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuhler and striker Andrew Johnson, who impressed during his two seasons with Everton.

Making the headlines on the other side of the English Channel, where the league campaign began last weekend, was Croatian defender Dario Simic. Capped 99 times by his country, the experienced Simic has moved from AC Milan to Monaco in a bid for more first-team action. Ghanaian frontman Andre Ayew, the son of Abedi Pele, has swapped the Mediterranean coast for Brittany after agreeing a loan deal that takes him from Marseille to Lorient. Facing him in the Breton club's derby outings against Rennes will be the ex-Lens duo of Senegalese Kader Mangane and former France U-21 international Lucien Aubey.

Former Juventus man Sergio Almiron has returned to Serie A after six months with Monaco. The son of the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ winner Sergio Omar Almiron, the midfielder will be pulling on the purple of Fiorentina when the Italian season starts. For their part, the Bianconeri have signed Alex Manninger from Siena as cover for Gianluigi Buffon, while Genoa have landed Roma's international defender Matteo Ferrari. City rivals Sampdoria have picked up an international defender of their own in Jonathan Bottinelli. Formerly with San Lorenzo, Bottinelli was called up for Argentina's recent FIFA World Cup qualifying match with Brazil.

There will be a smattering of new faces on show when the Bundesliga begins at the weekend, among them Hertha Berlin's new Tunisian recruit Amine Chermiti and the Romanian Sergiu Radu, who has joined Cologne after an unsuccessful time in France. Two gifted performers to head out of Germany are Russia's Ivan Saenko, who has joined Spartak Moscow after scoring 39 goals in the German top flight with Karlsruhe and Nuremberg, and Marcelinho. A big hit with the fans at Hertha Berlin and Wolfsburg, the Brazilian has signed on the dotted line for Flamengo.

Several other players have found the lure of home too hard to resist in recent weeks. After spending a year with Olympiacos, Christian Ledesma has returned to San Lorenzo, and the evergreen Finn Jari Litmanen has rejoined Lahti following an extensive tour of duty in Europe's top leagues. Meanwhile, Ukrainian midfielder Maksym Kalinichenko has gone back to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk eight seasons after leaving for Spartak Moscow.

Last but not least, the Greek top tier will have an extra dash of South American flair this season following the arrivals of Peruvian international Nolberto Solano at Larissa and Brazilian midfielder Dudu at Olympiacos.