Chix looks back at a player who represented both Pompey and Wigan and who stands out as a true great…
When I decide which player to feature on ‘They Played’ I generally select three or four, do a little research, then pick who I consider to be either a good servant to both clubs, the most well known or if there’s an unusual associated story, the most interesting. This week’s player hits the mark on all counts.
Wigan’s Arjan De Zeeuw was virtually unknown to most of us when Harry Redknapp signed him on a free as part of his rebuilding exercise in 2002, but approximately three years later he had become one of the most popular players in the Pompey squad and probably in recent history.
De Zeeuw started his career in his homeland of The Netherlands, before at the age of 25, after completing a degree in medical science, moving to Barnsley for £250,000. His spell at Oakwell included an unexpected promotion to The Premiership, yet despite only experiencing one season in the top flight he proved to be a consistent performer for Danny Wilson’s Tykes.
As Arjan’s contract expired at the end of the 1998/99 he moved to 2nd Division Wigan, where he became a vital member of the team and in over 130 league appearances for the Latics, proved himself time and again, to be a highly dependable Centre Back.
It was an expired contract in the summer of 2002 that again led to De Zeeuw changing clubs, but this time he was Pompey bound. Harry Redknapp was building a team worthy of a promotion push and although the Dutchman was an unknown face in a sea of ex-internationals and household names he became an integral part of the team that stylishly claimed the First Division championship.
Into The Premier League We Go
As Pompey set out on their maiden premiership campaign, some questioned whether De Zeeuw could once again cut-it at the highest league level, but cut-it he did and week in week out proved his doubters wrong. So much so, that the Fratton Faithful voted him Player of the Year in our debut premiership season.
Teddy Sheringham’s departure to West Ham at the end of that season left the position of Pompey Captain vacant and it was Arjan De Zeeuw who Redknapp appointed to lead the team and build on the success of the previous season.
‘bye ‘bye Harry
As we know Redknapp and his assistant Jim Smith resigned with only a quarter of the season gone and although Velimer Zajec did his best to get Pompey relegated, Frenchman Alain Perrin’s appointment saved the day and the team, led by De Zeeuw defied the odds to stay in the top flight for a third season.
Perrin’s and De Zeeuw’s relationship ultimately led to each others departure. Perrin’s view was that age was taking its toll on De Zeeuw so when he made Andy O’Brien his first signing it was only a matter of time before Arjan voiced his displeasure. De Zeeuw wanted a guarantee of first-team football which Perrin was unwilling to provide. Not prepared to be a bench player De Zeeuw returned to Wigan for a nominal fee of £90,000 in an attempt to bolster their backline.
Much to the annoyance of the Fratton Faithful, O’Brien started the season poorly, whereas De Zeeuw settled very quickly at the club he had previously served so well. His consistent performances at the heart of Wigan’s defence not only helped them to a impressive mid-table finish but De Zeeuw even received praise from the former Prime Minister Tony Blair!
The Prime Minister was a guest on Football Focus when presenter Manish Bhasin asked Blair to name his unsung heroes of the Premiership. The PM picked-out; Teddy Sheringham, Steed Malbranque and Arjan De Zeeuw and added ‘He’s really strong, never gives up. I could do with him at the whips’ office!’
Inevitably however, time was catching up with Arjan and during Wigan’s second Premiership campaign, hampered by injury after injury, he struggled to hold down a regular first team place and was released at the end of the season.
One Final Move
A one year contract at Coventry was offered and accepted but towards the end of last season, at the age of 38 and after only 18 appearances for the Sky Blues, it was announced that he would be one of eight first team players whose contracts wouldn’t be renewed. New manager Chris Coleman had decided De Zeeuw was surplus to requirements.
Although, due to his loyal service at Barnsley, Wigan and Pompey, De Zeeuw was considered by many to be an honorary Englishman the classy Dutchman returned to his homeland and signed for ADO’20 in the Dutch Hoofdklasse, the highest amateur league in The Netherlands, where I believe he is still plying his trade.
An Example To All
Players like De Zeeuw don’t come along very often, but when they do we should feel honoured to witness a true ‘role model’ and an excellent example of professionalism in our modern game. Arjan displayed a wonderful temperament none more demonstrated where he showed remarkable restraint and refused to retaliate after El Hadji Diouf spat in his face during a match against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium in 2004. His response? To score the winning goal in a 1-0 victory and send Pompey home with all three points.
Zeeuw gave Pompey three great seasons, one of which was our ‘Promotion Year’ where he produced performance after performance in what was a truly phenomenal season. His greatest accolade however must come from the Wigan supporters, as in a poll to celebrate the 100 years of the PFA, De Zeeuw was voted ‘The Greatest Wigan Athletic Player Of All Time’. That is some achievement.