It's now been two months since summer signing Royston ‘Ricky' Drenthe last kicked a ball in anger for the Royals. Brought in from Russian side Alania Vladikavkaz (copy and paste coming in extremely handy for the spelling) on a free transfer following their relegation, hopes were high for the former Galactico.
Although the start of the season brought promising performances, with the Dutchman impressing in games against Ipswich and Bolton, as the season wore on the spark seemed to die (this could be said of the team in general, that's a debate for another article). We've seen flashes of brilliance from our new number 10, but without the consistency needed to really set the division alight.
Having not seen Royston play competitive football since that cold September evening against Leeds all of eight weeks ago, what I would question would be his hunger and desire to get back on the pitch.
A theme that's popped up several times whilst he's been out injured, is of his own assurance to the fans that he's fit and ready to play, whilst the club's (now worryingly regular) injury updates have given the opposite perspective of the situation. With the injury conspiracies of last season still fresh in the memory - where players were allegedly being declared unfit to play for as long as their attitude was sub-par, there have been questions raised from some over whether or not Drenthe is actually injured.
For me though, there's very little to suggest that there's any ulterior motive to keeping Royston out of the side because talent wise, he's arguably our best player.
My own conclusion is that he's so desperate to get back on the pitch and play for a club that he clearly loves. For example, his attendance at fan sessions, Instagram pictures taken of himself at the stadium before the deal to sign him was even announced, and comments after he arrived that he planning to stay for the long-term all speak volumes of the fact that he's taken the club to his heart. With that in mind, I'd argue that he's more or less declaring himself fit out of frustration at not playing.
So, why do we need him back so much? My thoughts regarding our attack have probably been pretty much in line with those of other fans, seeing the notable improvement in the Pog's performances, the development of Jordan Obita and the impressive form of Garath McCleary. However, my impression from the QPR game is that we're lacking a spark in the middle of the pitch - that second striker, central attacking midfielder or, in our case, a number nine that sits off the front man and creates chances. Although the Pog's hold-up play of late has been impressive, much of this has required him to come deep to pick up the ball, with McCleary, Robson Kanu, Obita, or Le Fondre as the second striker going beyond him when he picks up the ball. But, in my view, none of them are properly suited to the No.9 role that we need to unlock defences. McCleary, Robson-Kanu and Obita are all more effective out wide, and Nigel Adkins' apparently favourite 4-2-3-1 formation effectively rules out Alfie as a regular starter.
This is where Royston comes in. A naturally quick, tenacious player who demands to be on the ball and involved in the play, he can come deep to receive the ball when we're in possession, and sprint onto the Pog's flick ons when the ball's played out long from the back. This would give the team much more spark and creativity through the middle when attacking, open up more space for McCleary and Obita out wide, whilst allowing the Pog to play more of the game higher up the pitch and get into even more goal scoring opportunities.
Results wise, the Royals have had a worrying lack of killer instinct recently, with points dropped from winning positions against Barnsley, Millwall and QPR. That extra bit of creativity and end product from the talented Mr Drenthe will get us those crucial extra goals and crucial extra points to keep us in the hunt for promotion. The news that he should return after the international break is a massive boost that could be the key to returning the Royals to the Promised Land, and writing Royston ‘Ricky' Drenthe's elegant name onto the long list of truly great Royals.