Playing Real could prove expensive for Drenthe

MADRID - Royston Drenthe may have to dig deep into his pockets if he wants to play for promoted Hercules in Saturday's La Liga match at home to leaders Real Madrid.

Real loaned the Dutch midfielder to the Alicante-based club for this season but there is a clause in the contract that stipulates he cannot line up against them unless they are paid a fee of 2 million euros.

"Maybe the one who wants to pay to play is me," Drenthe, whose swashbuckling performances have quickly won over the Hercules fans, was quoted as saying by local daily Informacion on Thursday.

"I am still working under the assumption that I will play," he added.

Hercules, whose annual budget of 40 million euros is about a 10th of Real's, have made a decent start to their first top-flight campaign in more than a decade and are 13th with eight matches played, in part thanks to a shock 2-0 defeat of champions Barcelona at the Nou Camp on matchday two.

Their pre-season preparations were overshadowed by allegations of match-fixing, which they denied, during their successful bid for promotion last season.

However, with Drenthe on inspired form and new strikers David Trezeguet and Nelson Valdez bedding in nicely they look well placed to avoid an immediate return to the second division.


Real, meanwhile, who lead Barca by a point, have been flying in recent weeks, netting 16 goals in their last three La Liga outings with Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo scoring eight.

Coach Jose Mourinho fielded what was largely a second-string side for Tuesday's 0-0 King's Cup draw at third-tier Real Murcia and in-form striker Gonzalo Higuain and midfielders Mesut Ozil and Xabi Alonso are likely to return to the starting 11 for Saturday's game.

One of the revelations of the season for Real has been Brazilian left-back Marcelo, who appears to have ironed out the indiscipline and defensive frailties of recent campaigns.

"Mourinho has given my confidence a big boost," Marcelo told a news conference on Wednesday.

"He has helped me a lot to improve defensively and with my aggression, which I did not have a great deal of," he added. "Now I go after each ball like a madman."

Mourinho's counterpart at Barca, Pep Guardiola, rested most of his first-choice players in their 2-0 Cup win at Ceuta on Tuesday as the champions prepare to host sixth-placed Sevilla in Saturday's late kick-off.

Playmaker Xavi, who has been sidelined with Achilles trouble, may return to face the Andalusians after an absence of several weeks.

Second-placed Villarreal, ahead of Barca on goal difference, play at Sporting Gijon on Sunday, Valencia host Real Zaragoza on Saturday and Atletico Madrid are at home to Almeria on Sunday.