A rising star at Real Madrid at just 20, an unemployed player close to hanging up his boots at 25. At the start of 2013, Dutch winger Royston Drenthe appeared to be just one in a long line of talents to have wasted their ability. “Lionel Messi? I am a player on the same level”, Drenthe said in 2007, upon joining Real Madrid. In the following years however, the Rotterdam-born winger proved to be among the world’s best only for his unprofessional conduct and poor attitude to work.

It took a trip to “nowhereville” to put Drenthe back in the headlines for footballing reasons. “Nowhereville” is the name the Dutchman gave to Vladikavkaz, the capital city of the Russian Republic of North Ossetia-Alania located at the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, 1,200 miles south of Moscow. The former Real Madrid man took the trip to Russia to sign up for Alania, a club battling relegation from the Russian Premier League. “I had never heard about the club or the city”, admitted Drenthe. “I just received this call from Russia when I was in my clothes shop. On the phone there were these men who wanted to meet me to talk about a very interesting proposal. They came at the right time, because if Alania had not been looking for me, I would probably be an ex-footballer by now.”

Drenthe packed his suitcase and flew to Vladikavkaz, making his league debut with Alania on 9th March 2013 against Rostov. Forty days later he scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 home win over Mordovia Saransk. It was Alania’s first win in the league since 20th August 2012. “Drenthe is our best buy”, coach Valery Gazzaev commented at the end of the match, “not only in the season, but in the whole 21st century.” It was an exaggeration of course, but in Drenthe’s career, exaggerations have always been the norm.

Since Drenthe took his first steps into the professional game, he quickly showed he was a "handle with care talent". At the age of 16, the starlet came close to being thrown out of Feyenoord’s academy due to disciplinary problems, but the Rotterdam giants’ former director of football Rob Baan chose to send him to Feyenoord’s satellite club Excelsior. At the Woudenstein, Drenthe was converted from a left winger into a left back, with impressive results, and at the end of the campaign he returned to Feyenoord. With the Dutch giants, Drenthe had his breakthrough season in 2006/07, being one of the few bright lights in a disappointing season for the Rotterdammers, who finished seventh.

In June 2007, the Dutchman became one of the hottest properties on the transfer market as he led Holland’s Under-21 team to win their second successive European Championship, and was chosen by UEFA as the Player of the Tournament. His tough, all-action approach to the game brought comparisons with Edgar Davids, despite the fact that Drenthe played on the flanks and was more attack-minded – even if he was often deployed at the back.

Six months in the first team squad at Feyenoord and a superb Under-21 European Championship were enough to convince Real Madrid to launch a €14M swoop for someone who looked every inch Holland’s new sensation. Drenthe joined Los Blancos along with countryman Wesley Sneijder and had an impressive impact, scoring on his debut against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup with a powerful long-distance shot. However, that game was one of just a few positive Drenthe performances during his three years at Real Madrid; even a season-long loan at Hercules in 2010 failed to put the Dutchman back on track, as he quickly fell out of favour with the club’s board of directors and coaching staff.

Things turned from bad to worse for Drenthe though as he left La Liga to join Premier League side Everton on another season-long loan. “My friend Andy van der Meyde told me Liverpool was not the right place for a nightlife lover like me”, conceded the winger. “He said there were too many temptations there and advised me to stay away from that city – but I didn’t listen to him. I went there and did everything a player shouldn’t do. I was completely out of control and I have to thank David Moyes [Everton manager, ed.] for the fact that I am still a player. I had a lot of discussions with him about my unprofessional attitude and I can say now that he was right in every way.”

Skateboarder, model, musician (in 2008 he recorded a single called Tak Taki – “chats” in the creole language spoken in Surinam – with Ryan Babel and the rapper U-Niq): Drenthe did everything except play football. Last summer he tried to return to his first club, Feyenoord, but found the door closed. “His salary was too high and, tactically speaking, the team didn’t need him”, explained director of football Martin van Geel. “Drenthe insisted that he had to play as a winger, but there were already enough wingers in the team.”

After another unsuccessful attempt to return, with PSV Eindhoven, the former Jong Oranje star was very close to hanging up his boots. “Then Alania came”, he said. “I asked Van der Meyde if he knew where Vladikavkaz was. He replied three days later with a message saying ‘Nothing to do there, ugly women, the coast is clear’. One week later I signed for them.”

At the bottom of the Russian Premier League, Drenthe seems to have finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel, even if the day after the game against Mordovia he was filmed by a friend driving his Ferrari at high speed, drinking beer and without a seatbelt on. But Alania remain the player’s last chance. Nowhereville or nowhere at all.

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