The Dutchman has taken an intriguing career path that’s led him from the peak of professional football to the very bottom
On a typical match day, Kozakken Boys are lucky to have over a couple thousand supporters watch on as they compete in the Dutch third division.
It’s here in the south of Netherlands where you can now find Royston Drenthe, who plays with a care-free smile on his face, despite the fact he could and should still be rubbing shoulders with the very best footballers.
Signed by Real Madrid in 2007 after winning the European Under-21 Championship, where he was also named player of the tournament, Drenthe seemed destined for big things.
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Fast forward 10 years, however, and the versatile left-footer had already hung up his boots following a rollercoaster decade in which he had told Everton manager David Moyes to “f*ck off” and accused Lionel Messi of racism.
While the now 32-year-old is playing football again, Drenthe’s promising career has defiantly forged its own path.
After bursting onto the scene with Feyenoord and cementing his status as a rising star playing for his nation’s U21 side, it didn’t take long for several big clubs to come sniffing.
“At the time, I heard that 16 clubs were interested in me,” Drenthe told Four Four Two. “I spoke with Barcelona president Joan Laporta and Predrag Mijatovic, director of football at Real Madrid.
“It felt like I met almost every high-ranking official at every club. Most of them offered me a five-year contract with more or less the same conditions.
“As soon as I heard Real Madrid were interested, my mind was made up. As a boy, I was fascinated by everything around the club. The glamour around Real, like the kind you see in the movie Goal!, was something I really wanted to be part of.”
Signed by Los Blancos for €14 million, Drenthe made his debut for the club against Sevilla in the Super Cup and quickly turned heads by scoring a stunning long-range equaliser.
Despite finding himself surrounded by some of the biggest names in football, the young Dutchman quickly settled and became fast friends with his team-mates.
“Everyone gave me a warm welcome. Guti was cool with me straight away, and he was the man in Madrid – a legend,” he said.
“I developed a good bond with Robinho soon after I arrived. Sometimes I would go to his house, where he’d converted his basement into a mini-nightclub.”
Unfortunately for Drenthe, the arrival of Marcelo in 2009 saw his playing opportunities limited and he was loaned out to Hercules in 2010.
Relegation and a falling out with the club’s management, however, meant the loan wasn’t a success with Drenthe ultimately sent to Everton next.
While showing some signs of promise in England, the winger spectacularly fell out with Toffees manager Moyes after turning up late to a team meeting before an FA Cup semi-final.
“I was waiting outside the room whereas I probably should have just walked in quietly and taken a seat,” he said.
“When I went in afterwards, Moyes told me to f*ck off. I should have accepted it, but I said, ‘What do you mean, f*ck off, bro? You f*ck off’.
“And then I left for Holland and didn’t come back.”
There was then to be no Madrid homecoming for Drenthe, whose initial contract with Real expired in June 2012 and he was left to find a new club.
From Spain, Drenthe next found himself playing in Russia as Alania Vladikavkaz pulled off the surprise signing.
While Drenthe did score a hat-trick across his six appearances for the club, his stay would be a short one with Reading luring him back to England in 2013.
He’d last just one season there, however, with the club telling him to move on and Sheffield Wednesday swooping in to sign him on loan.
Once again failing to make an impression, Drenthe then drifted between short stints in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates before calling time on his career in late 2016 to focus largely on rap.
Known as Roya2Faces, the then 29-year-old released a number of singles over the following year as he found happiness away from football.
“I’ve always liked music. When I’m happy I listen to music and when I’m sad I listen to music as well. It always gives me a good feeling,” Drenthe told BBC Sport.
“I was making music but it’s difficult to say that I was focused on one thing. I was busy with lots of different things.”
After 18 months away from the game, Drenthe was convinced to put the microphone down and lace up the boots again as he signed for then second division Dutch side Sparta Rotterdam.
The one-time Netherlands international would prove key for the club as they secured promotion, with Drenthe scoring five times and contributing six assists despite being deployed primarily at left-back.
At 32, he was back in the top flight but wasn’t keen for the stresses of first division football and happily signed for third-tier club Kozakken Boys instead.
While he’s made just three league appearance this season, Drenthe has scored once and added two assists, as he shows he can still contribute on the pitch.
Though Kozakken’s small stadium is a long way from the heights of the Santiago Bernabeu, Drenthe is perfectly happy with how his career has turned out.
“No regrets at all. Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I don’t regret anything because I’m happy with where I am and I’m happy with where I’ve been. I’m living my life at the moment.
“I’m just Royston, you know? I go with the flow.”