‘I know that it’s a big challenge and it’s been a big jump, but I intend to work hard to prove I deserve to be here.’ Denis Stracqualursi
‘I think Everton is a really good step for me. I have to train hard to get in the team and then I can demonstrate my quality.’ Royston Drenthe
ROYSTON DRENTHE knows a thing or two about spiky port cities where footballers are expected to compete with the same passion as their colourful supporters.
In Rotterdam, as in Liverpool, fans insist a never-say-die ethos is the bare minimum before a ball is even kicked.
Drenthe, 24, met the media for the first time as an Everton player yesterday, and explained that growing up in Holland’s second-city, then playing for local club Feyenoord, has prepared him perfectly for adapting to life in the fierce footballing hot-bed of Merseyside.
In person, the on-loan Real Madrid winger is as direct and bracing as his reputation on the pitch, and speaks with refreshing candidness about his career so far.
“The people are similar in Rotterdam and Liverpool,” he says. “The supporters have the same mentality, and they want to see you fight. That’s more important than anything – you have to do it for your team.
“The football divide in Merseyside is similar to Rotterdam. In Rotterdam we have three clubs; Excelsior, Feyenoord and Sparta. Feyenoord has the biggest stadium. If Feyenoord lose a game they should have won, you can’t go back to the stadium after the game to get your car. The supporters are waiting for you there.”
The one-cap Holland international is hoping to re-launch his international career while at Goodison, after seeing his chances limited during a frustrating spell at Real Madrid.
“I haven’t spoken to John Heitinga yet, but he told the guys here he’ll see me when he gets back from the selection (Dutch squad) at the moment,” says the hip-hop aficionado who is renting former Liverpool man Ryan Babel’s home.
“Normally I’m there also but I wasn’t playing with Real Madrid so that’s the reason I wasn’t there also.
“Hopefully I’ll book my place next time. I think Everton will be a good way to get back into the national squad. I got into the national team with Hercules, so Everton will be a big, big chance for me to get back in.”
Drenthe was the stand-out player of the Holland Under-21 side and his performances in that age group’s victorious European Championship campaign of 2007 secured his move to the Bernabeu.
But after one season he began to fall from favour as Real brought in a succession of new managers.
Having spent last term on loan at Primera Division newcomers Hercules he arrived at Goodison Park in the final nine months of his five-year contract with Madrid still at the relatively young age of 24.
“I have been playing from the age of eight in Feyenoord, then when I was 20 when I went to Real Madrid,” he says. “I have something to prove because my time at Real Madrid has ended already. It ended a year ago.
“After this year I am not a Real Madrid player any more because this is the last year of my contract.
“I am really happy I can make this step in my future. I think it is really important for me. I think Everton is a really good step for me. I have to train hard to get in the team and then I can demonstrate my quality in the games.
“My first year (at Real) was the best and nicest time; I learned a lot from players like Fabio Cannavaro, Raul, Michel Salgado, Guti, Robinho, Wesley Sneijder.
“Real Madrid had one of the best teams in the world with a mixture of young and old players.
“It changed a lot after that because the team broke up.
“They changed the trainer (Bernd Schuster), changed the trainer again and again.
“That is normal at Real Madrid but I learned a lot.”
Family man Drenthe endured some turbulent times last season as his loan move to Hercules was marred by the club’s financial problems, but he took solace in spending time with his wife and children; daughters Jemay-Lee, three, Lealy, two, and son Desley, nine months.
“This helps me a lot,” he says. “In the moments I was really sad, as soon as I got home I had perspective. My three-year-old girl is like an eight-year-old. She tells me what to do.”
For now though, there will be a formidable Scot telling him what to do. David Moyes has long monitored the 5ft 6in midfielder’s progress and believes his style is suited to the Premier League, a view shared by many.
“My father loves football, my whole family does, and he was saying you have to go to England,” he says. “Your pace would fit in there. Everyone has said the same – England is where you have to be.
“When I was in Spain I didn’t want to hear it, because I was playing there but I know I have the style. I like it and I want to show that to the fans.”