In the second article of this series profiling the forgotten players who have failed to live up to their potential, we try to find out whatever happened to the eccentric character that is Royston Drenthe.
One of the biggest mistakes young football players often make is moving to a big club as soon as they hit a good run of form, only to then fail miserably upon the new height of expectations suddenly put upon them. That is exactly the error that Royston Drenthe made. His move to Real Madrid was a step too soon, and coupled with his poor attitude ultimately proved to be the downfall of a highly promising career.
Drenthe was born in Rotterdam and like every young Dutchman born in the city, his aspiration was to play for local club Feyenoord, one of the traditional giants of Dutch football. And that was where he first started as he joined the club’s youth setup until he was sixteen when he would be loaned out to Excelsior in the second division to get more playing time. After a couple of seasons out on loan, Drenthe got his big break with Feyenoord under coach Erwin Koeman (brother of Ronald and son of Martin). With his long dreadlocks and vicious left foot, comparisons were instantly made with legendary midfielder Edgar Davids, although Drenthe’s impressive pace meant he was often deployed as either a left back or winger.
His breakthrough season with Feyenoord earned Drenthe a call-up to the Netherlands under-21 European Championship squad in 2007 which was being held on Dutch home soil. That proved to be the platform that Drenthe would announce himself to the footballing world. His superb performances helped the Netherlands to the trophy as he was named the player of the tournament in the process. The achievement meant he had joined an exclusive list which included famed greats such as Andrea Pirlo, Luis Figo and Petr Cech. Naturally, many of Europe’s major clubs started taking note. One of them was Spanish giants Real Madrid. And while many people in the Netherlands thought Drenthe would be better served remaining with Feyenoord and gaining more experience and playing time, the chance to play for a club of the stature of Real Madrid proved too difficult for Drenthe to pass up. His signing was swiftly announced during the same summer for a fee of around €14 million.
With expectations always rife when it comes to turning out in the famous white shirt of Real Madrid, Drenthe had to give a very good first impression to get the supporters on his side. And he did just that. Making his debut against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup, he scored a screamer which crashed off the underside of the crossbar and in. Unfortunately for Drenthe, his first shining moment was his only shining moment in a fairly forgettable stint in the Spanish capital. As time began to pass, Real’s notoriously impatient supporters grew increasingly irritated with Drenthe’s average performances and started to boo him during his ever decreasing cameo appearances.
In fact, ask any Real Madrid fan about Royston Drenthe and they will all remember one particular moment during his time at the club. That was during their El Clasico clash with a resurgent Barcelona at Camp Nou during the 2008-09 campaign. In the previous two seasons, Real had managed to dominate the encounters between the two sides and had been unbeaten in five games against their bitter rivals. But this Barca side was different. Led by Pep Guardiola, Barca were beginning to show signs of a legendary team, dominating opponents with their mind boggling football. They were heavy favourites to end their winless streak against a Real side who were short on confidence and struck with an injury crisis. This meant that the sparingly used Drenthe actually started the game. During the encounter, Real set up to frustrate Barca and hit them on the counter-attack. Their tactics were proving to be a success, and midway through the first half, a slick move saw Drenthe one on one with goalkeeper Victor Valdes. The stage was set for Drenthe to etch his name into El Clasico folklore, but instead, his attempt was feeble and saved by Valdes. Barca went on to win 2-0 on the night. It would be too drastic to say that goal could have changed the course of history as a Barca side containing the destructive trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi would have swept all before them anyway. But one thing was for sure, a goal certainly could have changed the course of Drenthe’s fortunes. Instead, that moment came to define Drenthe’s career as a whole, a never ending anti-climax.
In an effort to reignite his career, Drenthe moved on loan to newly promoted Hercules in 2010. Initially, signs were beginning to show that in a less volatile and demanding environment, Drenthe could get his career back on track. His early season performances were praised by the Spanish press, who were hailing Drenthe as finally showing the maturity he previously lacked. He even got some sort of redemption when he came back to his nightmare stage of Camp Nou and helped Hercules secure one of the most shocking results in recent Spanish football memory. Two goals by Paraguayan Nelson Valdes helped secure a 2-0 win against a Barca side who were previously undefeated for over a year on their home ground.
Unfortunately, once again Drenthe could not keep it up as his form dipped drastically. Furthermore, the Hercules project collapsed completely as the club went into financial difficulty before succumbing to relegation at the end of the season. Drenthe was vilified by both the club and the supporters for downing tools midway through the campaign after a dispute over unpaid wages. Whether that was fair on Drenthe or not, the bottom line was that yet again more disappointment had come his way just when it seemed things were on the way up.
Convinced that they could still revive Drenthe’s career, David Moyes and Everton took a gamble and signed him on loan. An opportunity had come Drenthe’s way even though he did not particularly deserve it, one in which he could have learned from his previous mistakes to settle down and establish himself at a great club and in a great league. But some things never change. His performances were average, to say the least. Moreover, a string of disciplinary issues and his lavish party animal lifestyle were causing him no end of problems. And these problems were compounded when Drenthe was late for training not once, but twice ahead of a crucial FA Cup semi-final clash with rivals Liverpool. It was the final straw and Everton decided against making his loan move permanent. Afterwards, Drenthe exclaimed that “I was living in a different world. And I realise I have ruined it all myself. I can’t believe I blew it at Everton, one of the most fantastic clubs in the Premier League. My attitude and poor mentality are the reasons I ruined my career there.” It was a case of too little too late. Not even his biggest supporters were sympathetic with his regretful remarks.
After his spell at Everton, Drenthe embarked on several stints at clubs all around the world, none of which yielded anything other than a confirmation that Drenthe will never make it as a top-level footballer. This not so illustrious list of clubs included Russian club Alania Vladikavkaz, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Turkish club Kayseri Erciyespor. Hardly a list that would make heads turn. There was even the customary move to the Arab Gulf region, a destination that seems popular for players who have fallen from grace. But his spell with Bani Yas of the United Arab Emirates predictably ended after only a few months.
Currently, a free agent, Drenthe’s career has all but been written off. At 29 years old, he should have been an established star of world football. Instead, it has been a journey from being one of the hottest young properties around to absolute complete obscurity. Royston Drenthe only has himself to blame for that.