What can you say about Arjan De Zeeuw that hasn’t been said already? This won’t be the only tribute to the Latics captain and I would imagine that all of them will cover pretty much the same ground. You’ll have read words like legend; hero and colossus banded about and possibly questioned how quickly fans fall back on such things these days.
In Ary’s case they are all true. In his two spells at the club if has proved himself a gentleman on and off the field. He has been strong and honest, and always given himself up for the good of the team. Paul Jewell describes him as the most professional player he has ever worked with and, following yesterday’s announcement that he will not be offered a contract for next season; the club will be a poorer place without him.
He joined Latics from, newly relegated, Barnsley in 1999. Stepping down a division when he could easily have gone the other way, De Zeeuw proved to be one of the few good things that John Benson did for the club, he went on to be the rock on which that season’s play off charge was built. He deserved more than to see his perfectly good goal chalked off, deemed not to have crossed the line.
He stayed at Latics for two further seasons before deciding that he couldn’t hang around for us to get together and achieve promotion and so on an emotional day in May 2002, he bade farewell to Latics in front of an orange clad JJB stadium.
Latics fans fears that the loss of their talisman would mean the worse for the side proved to be unfounded and as Ary progressed to the Premier League with Portsmouth Paul Jewell lead his side to the 2nd Division Championship. Neither club nor player has looked back since.
So, after three good seasons at Fratton Park, De Zeeuw was left stranded by Happy Harry’s departure to Southampton. With Latics now a top flight side and Alain Perrin unwilling to talk terms with his club captain, a chat with his mate and soon to be manager, saw Jewell rescue the big man from his exile on the south coast.
De Zeeuw’s influence in that season’s success story cannot be underestimated. His attitude, strength and experience were invaluable not just in terms of his own performances but in supporting and encouraging those around him that could have so easily been caught in the headlights. It’s testament to the great man that he considers himself at fault for the world class goal that Crespo scored on the first day of the season, he set a high standard for himself and also for his team.
The high point of Ary’s time at Latics must be leading the team out at Cardiff for the League Cup Final last season. That what followed was a let down will have hurt him greatly and the thought of bettering those achievements this season will have been key in him accepting another year’s contract at the club.
This year was always going to be harder and at times it looks as if age might have caught up with De Zeeuw. To be fair he has struggled with injury and it’s far more likely that that has affected his performances than anything else. Even so, his heart and mind has carried him through and he has continued to lead the side with strength and dignity, in the face of some dire situations.
Of course that leads to questions over whether he could manage another season at this level, only time and De Zeeuw can answer that one. The suggestion is that Ary is looking to play on, rather than return to his career in a white coat, and he believes he can do it then so can I. Call me a nostalgic old fool but this could be a decision we live to regret.
It’s never nice to have to say goodbye to such a great servant to the club, but it’s worse when you can’t do it from the stands. Ary deserves an ovation all to himself and at the very least should be invited back to the club next season to get that, I’ll not hold my breath though. Until we next meet then, I’ll raise my glass and say thank you, to a gentleman, a scholar and a judge of fine