When Royston Drenthe signed for Real Madrid in 2007, he was a precociously talented youngster with a bright future and one of the Netherlands’ leading lights for the future.
Seven years on and he is one of football’s forgotten men, struggling to break into a Reading side just inside the Sky Bet Championship playoffs – it seems unlikely he will add to his solitary international cap any time soon. He is blessed with electric pace and impressive strength for his 5’6” frame, but it has been his options off the pitch which have caused him problems, frequently missing training sessions and being filmed drink driving by a friend.
Born in Rotterdam, Drenthe joined his first club Neptunus at the age of five, before being snapped up by Feyenoord eight years later. He had disciplinary issues as young as 15 and was nearly forced out of the club while still in the B-side, but he went on to make 29 appearances in the Eredivisie before his big-money move came along. £12million was a lot for then-manager Bernd Schuster to spend on an unproven youth player which says something about the excitement surrounding his talent, and he played regularly in his debut season. Occupying the left wing and left back roles, he scored an absolute scorcher from 35+ yards against Sevilla, (see video below) but was gradually phased out due to the emergence of first Marcelo at left back, then the purchase of Cristiano Ronaldo. His form dipped and his popularity with the fans followed, and under Juande Ramos it is rumoured that he asked not to be played after being viciously booed by the Madrid fans.
His first loan spell, to Hércules, followed in 2010 and although his performances were good he found himself relegated amidst a row over unpaid wages. He then spent a year under David Moyes at Everton, and again his performances made him popular with the Toffees’ faithful – once again, though, eventually his manager lost his patience. After several missed training sessions, Moyes decided he’d had enough and left him out of his squad for the FA Cup semi-final. After a period out on compassionate leave, he even accused Lionel Messi of being racist, saying that the Argentine repeatedly called him “negro” after an on-field altercation.
After returning to Madrid, he finally left as his contract expired and decided to make a move off the beaten track to FC Alania Vladikavkaz of Russia. He was there for less than a year and scored three goals in six games, all in a crucial victory over fellow relegation rivals Mordovia Saransk. His manager called him “a great professional and an example for the youth”, but it wasn’t long before he made his way to Reading. He has since struggled with injuries, but is slowly finding his way back into the first team after two months out. There is, then, a glimmer of hope under Nigel Adkins. A good season for the Royals and a promotion challenge would put him well and truly in the shop window for a Premier League club, which could even alert him to Louis Van Gaal; who knows, he could even build on that solitary substitute appearance against Turkey.