BOUDEWIJN Zenden has brought plenty to Sunderland during his two years on Wearside, but he is leaving because they have not been able to give him enough in return.
At 34, Zenden, who helped Middlesbrough win the Carling Cup in 2004, is no longer the player he once was, but that does not mean he does not still want to play.
Popular with his team-mates and richly appreciated by his manager, the Dutchman could have stayed put.
Unfortunately for Steve Bruce and Sunderland, Zenden does not want to be a glorified coach, an extension of the manager’s staff with the pretence of a squad number.
He does not want to look after Sunderland’s young players, guiding them and nurturing them, he does not only want to be a role model for those who keep him out of the side on a match day.
Whereas the likes of Darren Bent have abandoned the Black Cats for more money – a cold financial decision no matter what he might claim in his defence – Zenden’s is purely down to football, or rather a lack of it.
It was a tough decision. He was happy in the North East, he is still enraptured by English football and enthralled by the battles of the Premier League, and he has made plenty of friends at the Stadium of Light. But with only a few years left as a player, Zenden intends to make the most of any swan song.
He does not know where he will go. There is not a move lined up and he hasn’t received any offers. He would like to stay in England, but he misses playing in Europe. He will see where the journey takes him. He knows it could be a mistake.
“It probably came down to the amount of game time,” said Zenden, who played 54 times for Holland in his prime. “What they sometimes say is – and it’s also in a movie – is that life is like a box of chocolates. It’s the same thing, you don’t know what you’ve got or what’s going to come. It might be better, worse, the same.
“You’ve got to think ‘what do I want’ and what’s the best at this stage. So I came to this conclusion, I want to leave. I’m open to anything. The most important thing for me is, I still feel I’ve got two or three years left in my locker, Playing on a regular basis makes it easier. At any age, if you wait one month for the game, it makes it harder to keep it up.
“You can train as much as you want, what you need its game time. I’ll be looking forward to that. It could be anywhere, I’m quite adventurous. I came up here after all.”
Zenden still has the same touch and vision that took him from PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona to Chelsea, to Middlesbrough, to Liverpool to Marseille and, eventually, to Sunderland. But the harsh truth is he probably does not have the legs any more to oust younger rivals.
With Lee Cattermole and Jordan Henderson Bruce’s first-choice partnership in central midfield, combined with the emergence of Jack Colback and Bruce’s desire to sign another player in that position in the summer, Zenden knows he would have been back-up again next season if he had accepted a contract extension.
Bruce sees him as an impact player, a calming influence from the bench, but Zenden believes he has more to offer than that and he hopes a club, preferably one playing in some sort of European competition, will give him the chance to prove it.
A move to Germany’s Bundesliga has been rumoured, although Zenden seems keen to keep his options open for the time being. He said: “I’ve had a career of about 20 years and I’ll go wherever football takes me. I’ll make my home where my house is.
“It’s not that I need to be in a certain place. I probably won’t drop down a division. It’s already been different not playing in Europe the last two years because, before that, I’d only missed one year in my career. It’s not always nice to be looking at the TV on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night.”
Before then, Zenden hopes he can help Sunderland win at West Ham tomorrow, three points that could push them into the top ten, the objective they had been set at the start of the season. He said: “The whole issue was that last year we finished somewhere around the same points. That’s where we are now, hopefully that can change a bit, and we can finish higher up the league table.
“The club has been on quite a roller-coaster ride. One of the main things was to establish themselves in the Premier League season after season. The other is to try to finish in the top ten, that’s what we said in the summer. The foundations are here.”