Royston of the Royals: ex-Real Madrid man joins Reading

Jasper Juinen

Today Reading confirmed the signing of Dutch international Royston Drenthe on a free transfer from Russian side Alania Vladikavkaz. It’s a move that has taken a fair few people by surprise but how is it that the ex-Real Madrid man is available and is it a bit of a gamble by the usually conservative Reading FC?

Chances are that if you’ve heard of Royston Drenthe you will know him as one of two things: a really exciting young talent who was playing for Real Madrid only a few years ago or as the player that fell out quite spectacularly with David Moyes whilst on loan at Everton. No doubt Reading are hoping they’ve signed the former but who is this guy and is he worth the risk?

The simple answer is yes. Drenthe is a player of unquestionable ability. He came through the youth setup at Feyenoord and like most Dutch players he has a fantastic touch and awareness. He came to prominence at the 2007 European Under-21 Championship which the Netherlands won on home soil. Not only was he part of that winning side but he was also voted player of the tournament beating the likes of Ashley Young, Jan Vertonghen, Giorgio Chiellini, Branislav Ivanovic and, er, Leroy Lita to the award. So impressive were his performances that it convinced Real Madrid to shell out €14m on the 20 year old winger and despite his young age he became the replacement for the legendary Roberto Carlos in the side.

So far so impressive but you must now be wondering why, only six years on from all this success, is he available on a free to a Championship side? The clue comes in the manner in which he lost his place in the Real Madrid side. With the emergence of Marcelo opportunities were limited but rather than knuckle down to win his place back, Drenthe refused to train and fell out with manager Bernd Schuster. This being Real Madrid though it wasn’t long until there was a new man in charge and the following year he featured more regularly under new man Juande Ramos, however his antics the previous year had the effect of turning the fans against him. After being booed constantly in a home game versus Deportivo Drenthe suffered an anxiety attack and asked not to be picked for subsequent matches.

His days at Real Madrid were clearly numbered and Drenthe soon found himself on loan at big spending new boys Hercules. His efforts weren’t enough to keep them up and his brief time there wasn’t without incident either. After several months without being paid and under an increasingly strained relationship with the management Drenthe went on strike and although he did resolve his issues with the club, many blamed him, perhaps unfairly, for the club’s relegation.

Fast forward another year and Drenthe found himself on Merseyside with Everton. He really impressed at the start of the season with a spectacular goal against Fulham on his full debut the standout moment. Once again however, drama wasn’t far away. After being granted compassionate leave by the club he returned late for training. This led to David Moyes dropping him from his FA Cup semi-final squad and costing him a permanent move to Goodison Park. Although the club never went into specifics, the implication was that this wasn’t the first misdemeanour but rather the last straw. Who knows, maybe Moyes took exception to some of the singles that Drenthe was recording!

He was finally released by Real Madrid last summer but it wasn’t until February 2013 that he was able to secure a move to Russian side Alania Vladikavkaz but was unable to keep them in the Russian top flight. Not that his time in Russia was completely drama free after footage of him apparently drink driving appeared.

Reading were apparently linked with him in January before he went to Russia but with the Dutchman now available again, Nicky Hammond and Nigel Adkins have clearly decided now is the moment to take a punt on him. Mind you, announcing the move on Instagram and Dutch media before the club have confirmed it can't have pleased them all that much!

If his record is anything to go by it will only be a matter of time before Drenthe is making the papers for something non-football related but this shouldn’t detract from his on-field abilities. Having played limited football over the last 12 months it may well take longer than the summer to get him fully in shape but (and it’s a big but) if he can get his head right and into shape, he could be a devastating player in the Championship. Aged only 26 if he can find a home here he could be a massively influential signing for several years but equally he has a lot of form for being a very disruptive influence in the dressing room. It could be a simple case of either/or and unfortunately there are a lot of 'ifs' and 'buts'. It's undeniably exciting to have a player of his calibre, regardless of his history, coming to the club.

It would be lovely to write a piece that is purely about what a really talented player Reading have signed but with Drenthe it’s nigh on impossible. Some people will no doubt say that too much is made of his off-field antics and that he is simply a colourful character who is misunderstood. That may well be the case but Nigel Adkins will have to carefully manage his new signing to get the best out of him. If that means giving him dispensation to record some more hip hop singles to keep him happy then so be it!

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