Royston Drenthe: Everton Has Everything... If You Are There, Stay There

In an interview originally published in Everton's matchday programme at the back end of 2020/21, Royston Drenthe talks about regrets over a bad-tempered exit from the ‘perfect club’, an after-hours visit to Finch Farm, a hotel tantrum in Switzerland, joining Real Madrid at 20, and the Dutchman’s ambition to achieve ‘something crazy’ following a revitalising move to Spanish team Racing Murcia.

Would Royston Drenthe, given his time again, swap all the aggro for a blemish-free, glittering football career?

Would he trade the hotel bust-up at Feyenoord and the multiple fall-outs, the strike action in Spain and the excessive partying – “If it was not a party outside, I would make my own party, you understand?” – for 400 Real Madrid games and a Holland cap-haul worthy of a supremely-gifted player?

Would he heck.

“No, no, no,” Drenthe insists.

“This is part of my life.

“Everybody has their own thing.

“How many players can say they played for Real Madrid, or Everton, a big club in England?”

Drenthe, as a rule, doesn’t do regrets. He landed in hot water as a footballer, sure, but the sport kept him from real-life trouble.

There was “a lot of joy” growing up “in the hood”, in the centre of Rotterdam.

“But you also learned to survive,” says Drenthe, who belonged to a gang called the Baby Damagers.

“It was normal to see drug users on the street, or in the hallways when you came out of your home.

“As a little boy, you see people putting needles in their hands or smoking drugs.

“When you see bad things, most of the time, you will do the same.

“But playing football helped me to do good.”

Drenthe was “19 or 20” when his mum “started to talk about what really happened to my dad”.

The family line, formerly, was that Drenthe’s father died following an accident. He was, in fact, murdered in a street fight, aged 27, when Drenthe was three years old.

“I don’t think I made decisions because my dad wasn’t there anymore, it just went like that,” says Drenthe.

“I have his mentality, if I listen to my mum’s stories.

“If somebody says something bad to me, I won’t keep my mouth shut.”

An inability to count to 10 contributed to Drenthe’s Everton career reaching a stormy end – an episode that qualifies as the lone exception to that unyielding no-regrets mantra.

Royston Drenthe
As a little boy, you see people putting needles in their hands or smoking drugs. When you see bad things, most of the time, you will do the same.

The “stupidity” of Drenthe’s first error, forgetting to set an alarm after gaming until the small hours, still rankles. Drenthe belatedly arrived at Finch Farm to discover manager David Moyes and his players mid-meeting, in advance of a weekend FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool.

“Normally,” explains Drenthe, “if you are late, you change quickly, and nothing happens.

“Because of that meeting, everyone knew I arrived late, which sucked.”

An attempt to apologise to Moyes prompted a furious back-and-forth. Drenthe bolted to Holland and Everton lost the semi-final 2-1.

“My temperament was, ‘Okay, you want me to go, I am leaving’,” says Drenthe.

“I was young, I don’t know how I‘d have responded in another time.

“I was angry the gaffer sent me away – but I was still part of the group and wanted my teammates to win.

“I knew my time at Everton was done.

“It was just stupid, it wasn’t that I was partying the night before.

“I regret it.

“I feel bad for the fans over what happened, even now.

“They always supported me and I will keep them in my heart because they gave me a lot of joy in football.

“I wish I’d stayed longer, of course.

“Everton has everything… if you are there, stay there.

“If you can perform in a stadium like Goodison Park, you don’t need anything else.

“Everton is a perfect club.”

Jose Mourinho, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, recently distinguished between those who view football as “a job”, and others, like himself, for whom “it is much more… the passion, the heart, the desire”.

Scratch beneath the surface and you learn Drenthe is in Mourinho’s camp – a first, given the pair’s strained relationship at Real Madrid after Drenthe withdrew labour on loan with Hercules when his wages dried up.

The Dutchman would substitute pillows and teddy bears for footballs in his childhood home, “until my mum was crazy”.

He was eight when Feyenoord took him from Neptunus, the small club where Drenthe’s mother found an outlet for her son’s energy and talent.

Legend has it that a move to Feyenoord’s lower-league sister-club Excelsior, seven years later, was punishment for misconduct on a trip to Switzerland.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s true,” says Drenthe.

“It was quite a big incident, with bad behaviour from me.”

Drenthe tried to enter a hotel room where teammates were playing computer games.

“They didn’t let me in and I was a little bit upset,” he says.

“I went back to my room and took stuff from the players who didn’t want to open the door and threw it out the window.

“Then I took some cream [moisturiser] and threw that out the window, it busted open on a car at the hotel.”

Teammate Dorus van der Voort, who witnessed the tantrum, was eventually persuaded to talk up.

“They suspended me from Feyenoord,” begins Drenthe.

“I told my mum I didn’t want to play football anymore.

“She was upset because I am her little boy, but she knew I could do some crazy things.

“She said, ‘Listen, my boy, just play… we will see where it ends’.”

Feyenoord invited Drenthe back after two years and a senior debut aged 18 heralded a head-spinning burst to prominence.

Royston Drenthe
I told my mum I didn’t want to play football anymore. She was upset because I am her little boy, but she knew I could do some crazy things.

He capped his first full season by claiming player of the tournament as Holland won the 2007 European Under-21 Championship. “I was completely fearless and just doing my thing,” smiles Drenthe.

Real Madrid duly parked their tanks on Feyenoord’s lawn and the wilful 20-year-old was determined to go.

“Some chances never come again,” says Drenthe.

“I thought, ‘I badly want to play for Real Madrid and I am not leaving this opportunity for someone else’.”

Having close family in tow facilitated a swift bedding-in process and, playing semi-regularly, Drenthe immediately won a Spanish title.

When he missed a handful of games midway through his second season, manager Juande Ramos revealed the player was suffering with anxiety after catcalls accompanied every move of a substitute appearance against Deportivo La Coruna.

“I was afraid to make mistakes because I knew if I did it would end up bad for me,” says Drenthe.

“My agent advised me to see a sports psychologist.

“I learned a lot from that – but it wasn’t enough.

“We forget what you need to know outside the field to perform.”

What knowledge was Drenthe missing 12 years ago, then?

“That is hard to say, because I knew I was a difficult lad,” says Drenthe.

“I would listen to advice but the question was, would I follow it?

“I said, ‘Listen, I will do it my way… I came here on my own strength’.

“That is in a lot of youngsters’ heads – ‘I am self-made’.

Royston Drenthe
I knew I was a difficult lad. I would listen to advice but the question was, would I follow it?

“But nobody is self-made, your parents helped you grow up, coaches taught you and gave you chances.

“Family members put their own lives aside to be with you – it is a lot of sacrifice.”

Drenthe was reborn after joining Hercules for 2010/11, quickly gaining his only Holland cap, before the ill-timed wages dispute.

Hercules’ season spiralled and they were relegated despite the resolution of Drenthe’s issues.

“I knew Mourinho was angry because I was a player from Real Madrid and couldn’t not go to training, that kind of stuff,” says Drenthe, who trained with fellow outcast Lassana Diarra, away from Madrid’s first team, in the subsequent pre-season.

“There was no chance to stay and I had to find a solution.”

Everton provided that solution, arranging a loan – covering the final season of Drenthe’s Madrid contract – on the closing day of the 2011 summer transfer window.

Stocky and skilful, rapid and direct, elusive winger Drenthe reckons he played his best football across 27 Everton appearances – 14 starts – which produced four goals.

“It was the right league for my style,” he reasons.

Drenthe’s full debut was three minutes old when he swerved a brilliant 25-yard first-time shot beyond Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer at Craven Cottage, adding to a goal against Wigan Athletic on his second appearance.

His light flickered teasingly across the following six months, gusts of productivity punctuated by aimless periods.

Drenthe has previously confessed to “letting myself down” at Everton, blaming poor attitude and mentality.

“At training, I am always working, when I see a ball, I am happy,” he expands today.

“My lifestyle outside the pitch was a little bit unprofessional.

“I could have done things differently, sometimes.

“I was living my life in the city, doing my thing.

“If I wanted to go to the centre, I went, but, sometimes, it is not the right moment.

“Now, I have eight more years’ life experience, so would do it differently.”

Drenthe corroborates another quote attributed to him, admitting that, yes, if he partied, he did it “properly”.

“I am partying my way, having a nice chat, a nice drink,” he says.

“Do a little bit crazy – but not crazy things, like other people are thinking.”

Drenthe is confident Moyes would testify to his application in training and games.

“He is a great guy and manager,” says Drenthe.

“But he responded to me like he had to.

“Sometimes, with my bad behaviour, or temperament, he had to be above me.

“He knew, sometimes, I could explode.”

Royston Drenthe
I am partying my way, having a nice chat, a nice drink. Do a little bit crazy – but not crazy things, like other people are thinking.

The story that has Drenthe bowling into Finch Farm under the cover of darkness one night is accurate.

Albeit not, he insists, the riotous tale of popular imagination.

Drenthe returned to collect his car at 2am following a day out, after it dawned he’d have no transport for the morning.

“But I didn’t feel well at training the next day,” says Drenthe, whose temperature had climbed to 39C.

“I went back after three days and the manager said, ‘You were ill but the night before, you came to take your car’.

“But that had nothing to do with feeling sick.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the training ground so late but it wasn’t with bad intentions.”

Opening a clothes store in Rotterdam, inadvertently – and literally – brought Drenthe’s next offer after Everton to his doorstep, representatives of Alania Vladikavkaz turning up to recruit the originally sceptical player.

Following a good but brief experience in Russia – “I am not a guy who needs everything in the best way to perform” – he played with Reading and Sheffield Wednesday, then had time in Turkey and Abu Dhabi.

Repeatedly “starting a new life” contributed to creeping fatigue and encouraged Drenthe to adhere to a personal philosophy.

He has a tattoo of a laughing clown on his left calf, a crying clown inked on the right.

A caption reads: ‘Smile now, cry later’.

“Make decisions that bring you happiness in life,” says Drenthe, explaining his artwork.

“The time to cry is coming… it is the only thing we are sure about in this life.

“Even if we are living for the moment, that is going to come, so cry later.”

In 2016, then, Drenthe decided quitting football to indulge other interests – he released a rap single, under the name Roya2faces, and acted in Dutch television programme Mocro Maffia – would deliver contentment.

“I didn’t lose my passion for football, I was just tired of it and thought, ‘Let’s forget it and move on’,” says Drenthe.

After two years out of the game, Drenthe missed “scoring goals and people cheering for you”, and realised, ‘I can still do that’.”

Drenthe joined Sparta Rotterdam and played 32 matches as his team won promotion from Holland’s second tier.

Royston Drenthe
Make decisions that bring you happiness in life. The time to cry is coming… it is the only thing we are sure about in this life.

In January this year, via 18 months with Dutch third-tier side Kozakken Boys, he signed for Spaniards Racing Murcia.

“Football is my life,” says Drenthe.

“But I can’t find the perfect way to be myself in Holland.

“I am best away.

“In Spain, I can control my mind much better.

“I speak to my [six] kids every day.

“Coming abroad this time was more difficult, they thought I wasn’t going to leave anymore.”

Drenthe expected a drift into football’s shadows to equate to a “quiet life”, but he continues to exist “under a magnifying glass”.

News of his bankruptcy last year – which Drenthe previously described as a “misunderstanding”, adding today, “That’s right” – circulated the continent.

“When you make a mistake, it is published everywhere, that can break people,” says Drenthe.

He is less combustible these days – “It depends on the moment, or if somebody is worth it… but you learn to control your emotions, you are a dad and have to set a good example” – and Drenthe wants headlines for only sporting reasons.

Racing Murcia are flourishing in the boondocks of Spanish football and Drenthe is “performing well and training hard”.

“Until the moment my body says, ‘Listen, Roy (claps hands twice), you can’t have this’, some crazy things are going to happen,” he says.

“I don’t know what.

“It might be historical.

“I am very happy, I feel like a little boy again, starting a new career.

“I watched my old teammate, Pepe [ex-Real Madrid defender], playing for Porto in the Champions League.

“He is 38 and still a monster on the pitch.

“You understand what I am saying?

“I have to do the same.”

That spikiness underpinned Drenthe’s connection with Evertonians.

Royston Drenthe
Until the moment my body says, ‘Listen, Roy (claps hands twice), you can’t have this’, some crazy things are going to happen.

“They like players who work hard,” he says.

“It is like a Feyenoord mentality, busted up in the games, the crowd hyped up.

“Everton fans gave me extra power.

“It was the same at Feyenoord.

“At the Bernabeu, they are very quiet, eating pipas.

“If it doesn’t go well, they whistle every player.

“At Everton – and Feyenoord – if it goes bad, they say, ‘We stand behind you guys’.

“Everton are in my heart.”

Drenthe pauses.

“Maybe I will come back to Everton,” he resumes, laughing.

“That is the miracle I told you about.

“Something crazy has to happen.”

With Royston Drenthe, for good or for bad, it usually does.