Chelsea v Newcastle. Today, Pay Per View, 1.30pm, kick-off 2pm. A training in judo ensures Chelsea's new Dutch winger can stand up for himself regardless of the opposition, reports Jonathan Northcroft.
Even down a telephone line, Pierre Zenden's voice hits you with the force of a black-belt judo throw. "YES?" he booms, as loud as the sound of an opponent being slammed to the mat, with the hearty tone of a man who likes nothing better than a grapple. "You want to talk about Boudewijn?"
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's father was a Norwegian wrestling hero and some of that strength can be seen in the striker's way of holding off centre-backs. Boudewijn Zenden owes even more to paternal influence.
Pierre Zenden is the Dutch Brian Jacks, a television judo personality and former national coach, who commentates on the sport for NOS, Holland's version of the BBC. Boudewijn himself became regional champion five times before giving up to concentrate on football. He was a black belt, first dan by the age of 14.
Move over Dennis Wise. Wingers are used to taking falls, but Chelsea's new wide player is as likely to dish them out. When Jamie Carragher crunched Zenden during England's friendly against Holland on Wednesday, the Dutchman bounced straight to his feet and gave Carragher a shove that almost launched him back to Liverpool. Carragher is 6ft 1in and weighs 13st. Zenden is 5ft 8in, but fears nobody.
Arsenal supporters might remember David Seaman's testimonial, when a punch-up ensued after Zenden, playing for Barcelona, got testy with Lee Dixon. "Judo", however, means "gentle way" in Japanese and there are more subtle aspects in which Zenden's football reflects his training in the sport.
Against England, his agility was evident every time he twisted past Ashley Cole, and his speed of footwork showed in the back-heel that set up Ruud van Nistelrooy to chip on to the bar. His balance was revealed when he steadied to let the ball run across his body before unleashing the shot which Nigel Martyn spilled before van Nistelrooy's goal. All this playing on the right, his wrong side. Today, in the Premiership's first pay-per-view club game, Zenden hopes to floor both Newcastle and the television audience. His father will be at Stamford Bridge, boosting the decibel level.
"Judo helped my football. It gave me strength and agility. You get a lot of tough defenders and when they tackle, I'm maybe not so easy to put down," Zenden said. He thinks he was four when he became a judoka, but his father remembers differently: "Boudewijn was only two, and started after he saw me competing on the mat. His first judo suit was sewn together by our neighbour."
As Zenden said: "What you do at an early age shapes you." On PSV Eindhoven's 1994 tour of Mexico he roomed with a certain Brazilian who, like himself, was a teenager making waves in the first team. Ronaldo challenged Zenden to a wrestle, got soundly beaten and went to seek help from compatriot Vampeta. Soon Zenden was putting both Brazilians in judo locks. He remains a great friend of Ronaldo.
It was Ronaldo who, unable to say Boudewijn (it is pronounced "bough Dwayne") gave him his nickname, Bolo. It is mind-boggling to imagine how he would have been addressed by Bobby Robson, never the best with monikers, had he signed for Newcastle. Robson spent two months chasing Zenden this summer and was willing to meet the player's personal terms and Barcelona's Pounds 7.5m price. Zenden did not return his calls, however, a sign of how Newcastle's stature has slipped. Being spurned as a suitor is painful, but being ignored much worse.
Zenden maintains he was flattered by their interest, but had kept Chelsea in mind ever since the Londoners tried to buy him from PSV. "Chelsea were persistent for three years and that gave me a very good feeling about going there," he said. "I've been in England for two weeks and I'm beginning to feel settled, but the rest of the squad are two or three weeks ahead of me in their training schedule. I'm working hard to catch up."
Having been multi-talented but one-paced before Claudio Ranieri's arrival, Chelsea now have two of Europe's quickest players. If Jesper Gronkjaer is a flying machine, Zenden is a rocket -consistently matching, and sometimes beating, Marc Overmars in the sprint tests held by the Dutch squad. In internationals, it is Zenden who swaps flanks to accommodate Overmars, but for Chelsea he expects to play on his natural left side, with Gronkjaer switching to the right.
Zenden is almost as optimistic about Chelsea as Sir Alex Ferguson is: "I can see already we have a very good squad and lots of different types of players of different ages. It makes a nice balance and means we can play several ways."
Zenden caused a minor storm when he said United's domestic dominance had become boring. At Barcelona, where he spent three turbulent years, he grew accustomed to controversy. After playing just eight times in his first season as a result of Louis Van Gaal doubting his crossing ability, he was converted to left back, provoking anger at the Nou Camp. Locals wanted Sergi, a Catalan, in that position.
At Chelsea, he is looking forward to being valued again. "If a team buys you it's because they want to use you and Chelsea have told me they need a player with my skills. In Barcelona there was so much politics involved and it was difficult for me to deal with. The most important thing now is to play first-team football because I want to be in the Holland team at the World Cup. I'm 25 (he celebrated his birthday last Wednesday) and that's a good age to go to a big tournament."
Not long ago, Chelsea would have been seen as a downward step from Barcelona, particularly in Holland, where the Catalan club are synonymous with Johan Cruyff. Zenden, though, speaks of Europe's growing admiration for the Premiership and believes the switch has enhanced his international prospects. "I didn't ask Van Gaal (now Holland manager) about my move because I already knew his opinion of English football. I spoke to him last week and he's very satisfied. He said coming to Chelsea was a very good decision."
The winger's one concern might be that with Ed de Goey, Mario Melchiot and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink already at Stamford Bridge, he is joining something of a Dutch enclave. After Barcelona, where fans barracked the team for having too many Dutch players (Van Gaal amassed seven), Zenden decided three foreigners of the same nationality was enough at any club. Nevertheless Pierre, who is also his son's agent, says: "Chelsea is the best place for Boudewijn. London's a nice city, the manager likes attacking football and the club are used to having foreign players."
Zenden Sr says junior could have been an Olympic judoka: "He was under-18 champion of the region aged 15, beating older boys who had extra muscle and power." He is happy, however, with Boudewijn's chosen path and is a keen footballer himself. He owns a sports complex in Maastricht and at the Friday night judo club he runs there, training begins and ends with a kickabout. "When Boudewijn is home he plays but he misses out the judo in case of injury," he says.
Another member of the Friday-night club is a black-belt who happens to be Zenden's lawyer and contract adviser. The player likes to keep things tight-knit, just like Maastricht itself, a border town not known for producing football talent. They are proud of Zenden, who claims to have learned the game playing on a pitch that straddles Holland and Belgium. That might be an exaggeration, but who's arguing? Not Carragher, not Vampeta, not Ronaldo.
Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 2001
"Black belt Zenden no pushover; Football." Sunday Times [London, England] 19 Aug. 2001: 8. Academic OneFile. Web. 29 Nov. 2009.
Gale Document Number:CJ77389610
United States Judo Association - USJA
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