Though he is rumoured to be leaving Real Madrid either during the winter transfer window or at the end of the current campaign, Royston Drenthe’s time with the Spanish giants will not be ill spent. Now in his third season with one of the biggest and most scrutinised clubs in world football, the Dutch winger, still just 22, has suffered hardship and adversity, retaining a sense of smiling optimism off the pitch and a coiled, eager fighting spirit on it.
One of the paciest players in the game, the short, powerful and little-known Drenthe caught the eye of then-Real boss Bernd Schuster in 2007, signing a five-year deal in August of that year at the tender age of 20. The surprise move took the youngster, born on the rougher streets of Rotterdam to Surinamese immigrant parents, away from his beloved Feyenoord, where he rose through the youth ranks and become a fans' favourite after debuting with the first team in the 2005/2006 season.
Hurt feelings and cruel barbs quickly came from the supporters at the De Kuip ground, and Drenthe – a hero just weeks before – was branded a traitor. “I love Feyenoord with all my heart and I always will,” Drenthe told FIFA.com weeks after signing his deal with the giants from the Spanish capital. “When Real Madrid come calling, what are you supposed to do? What would you do? I’m just a Suriname boy from Rotterdam, and I had to take the chance,” continued the left-back turned winger.
I love to pull on the Dutch national team shirt. I feel at home in the Oranje and the pride I feel is big when I get the chance.
Life has not been easy for Drenthe in the pressure-cooker environs of the Bernabeu, where, just days after arriving in the city, he crashed his sports car into a police cruiser. Still raw, the speedy wide man was unable to nail down a starting spot under Schuster or his ill-fated successor, Juande Ramos, and the fans occasionally took to barracking the Dutch import. This season, under newest Real boss Manuel Pellegrini and with the Galactico philosophy back in place, Royston has started only five games, coming off the bench to deputise for Brazilian back Marcelo and Alvaro Arbeloa, as superstar signings Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo grab all the headlines.
Through it all Drenthe, 'Ricky' to his mates, has kept his inimitable broad smile. With a mouth full of shining gold teeth, Royston’s warmth was immediately noticed upon his arrival in Madrid. Rather than retreating from the limelight, he courted fans’ attention with a broad smile and welcoming air. “I’m just a social guy, I guess. Football should be fun and it’s fun for me.” His fondness for the fun side of life is also apparent on the rap recording he made with international teammate and Liverpool man Ryan Babel called ‘Tak Takie.’ Though he clashed with German boss Schuster, the mercurial young man has settled and is doing his rangy best in a team of globally feted superstars.
At international level, Drenthe has made only one appearance for the senior Dutch national team, though he is hoping for more. If a rumoured move to Paris St. Germain in the French top flight brings more first-team, regular football, it might well just mean a chance for Drenthe to sneak his way into Bert van Marwijk’s Dutch team for next year’s 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Despite only the lone senior appearance, the jet-heeled midfielder has had a proud career in the nation’s youth set-up, winning and being named top player at the 2007 UEFA European U-21 Championship. He also played every game for the Netherlands at the 2008 Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing. “I love to pull on the Dutch national team shirt. I feel at home in the Oranje and the pride I feel is big when I get the chance,” the beaming and hopeful young man concluded. “It’s a big deal for me, and it’s a long way from where I came from when I was a boy.”