From Rotterdam to Baniyas via Real Madrid: Time for Royston Drenthe to deliver on talent

Ian Hawkey profiles the colourful career of Baniyas signing Royston Drenthe, the Dutchman who once promised so much but has so far failed to deliver on his immense talent.

Royston Drenthe, centre, as signed for Arabian Gulf League club Baniyas. ©Twitter / @Baniyasclub
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At Real Madrid, they still tell stories about Royston Drenthe, many of them about the boy in the body of a man. One day in his first season at perhaps the world's most glamorous club, the Brazilian Robinho turned to the Dutchman, who has just joined Baniyas, and said, joking: "You're not telling the truth about your age, are you? You're not 20, you're 29. Look at all those tattoos, and the gold tooth!"

Drenthe has a few different looks across his hopscotch career, from long braids to short mohicans. It was at Madrid that he drew the most attention to himself, dressed like a rapper, his body-art giving off certain messages.

He had the number 010 inked onto a shoulder while very young, a similar tattoo to one his father sported. The meaning? It’s the telephone code for Rotterdam.

Although Drenthe has had many different homes en route to his new one in the UAE; Madrid, Liverpool, Russia, Yorkshire, Turkey, to name just some, by his own account of who he is, the Rotterdammer remains ever present.

He grew up in the Dutch port city; his father worked at the docks.

“In Holland,” he once said, “there are two mentalities, and the difference between Rotterdam and Amsterdam is the same as between their clubs, Feyenoord and Ajax. At Feyenoord you get booed if you don’t fight for everything; at Ajax, they like the beautiful game. Rotterdam can be dangerous, it’s a bit crazy.”

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Drenthe grew up with Feyenoord, and in his young days he could be a little crazy, too. There were some disciplinary issues off the pitch, but stellar qualities on it. He had a preciously powerful left foot, and real speed on the ball.

By the time he was 19, Dutch football believed it had found a rare gem of a footballer. He had just turned 20 when he was picked as Player of the Tournament when Holland hosted and won the European Under 21 Championship in 2007.

He joined Madrid the same summer, tasked with filling a conspicuous vacancy at the club. Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian dynamo, had been redefining the role of the modern left-back at the Spanish club for over a decade, and the idea among Madrid’s executives was that Drenthe, with his stamina and his pace, could become a taller version of Carlos for another ten years or more.

At the young Dutchman’s presentation, he performed some beguiling tricks of close control.

But the periods he commanded a first team place with Madrid would be limited. He made a good early impression, chiefly as a midfielder, but when Marcelo, who would go on to command the left-back role at Madrid, as he still does, joined in 2008, Drenthe had a formidable rival, who also had youth on his side for a place on that flank.

Dropped from the squad ahead of a match against Valencia, Drenthe left the training ground in a huff.

He earned a less than flattering nickname: “Acci-drenthe”, which rhymes with the Spanish word for accident. He crashed his car while with Madrid. He developed a reputation for poor time-keeping which pursued him through a loan spell at Hercules and to Everton, where he spent a season of occasional highlights but little consistency, on loan.

The years since have been skittish. Half a season at Alania Vladikavkaz in 2013; six months at Sheffield Wednesday and another six at Kayseri Erciyesspor in 2014/15. Reading, of the English championship, gave him a two-year deal in 2013 but by the end of it invited him to look for a new employer.

That is a pattern Baniyas will be aware of. Drenthe turns 29 in April, which gives him plenty of time still to realign a career that has not met the expectations put on him when he was in his teens. But there is still explosive force in that left foot, and the potential to produce something surprising, and match-winning, every so often.