Premier League Career: Barnsley (1997-1998), Portsmouth (2003-2005), Wigan Athletic (2005-2007)
He was stopping attackers throughout his Premier League career. Now Arjan de Zeeuw is attempting to stop criminals in his new profession. After retiring from the game in 2009, the Dutchman decided to return to his homeland and not to coach or manage either. He is working as an investigative detective, attempting to crackdown on drugs and human trafficking incidents in the Netherlands.
In contrast to today’s modern day footballers, de Zeeuw turned professional at the more mature age of 22. That was because he was doing a University degree in medical science which shows his passion for his new career. Back in the 1990s and 2000s though, his job was to restrict the number of goals that were going into the back of the net. In 1995, he moved to England, joining Barnsley for a fee of £250,000 and he scored his first goal in the country during a 2-2 draw with Ipswich Town in December.
De Zeeuw became a vital player during the Tykes’ most successful chapter in their footballing history, inspiring them to promotion to the Premier League in 1997. The defender made an impressive step-up to the leading level of English football even if his team were the leakiest defence that season. Barnsley were relegated after their debut season and it seemed like de Zeeuw would leave the club. He turned down a new contract and Leicester City were poised to snap him up as a replacement for Steve Walsh. However, new Barnsley manager John Hendrie managed to persuade Arjan to sign a new one-year deal and try to inspire them back to the top-flight. Barnsley didn’t mount a serious challenge for promotion though and de Zeeuw did eventually leave Oakwell in 1999 for Wigan Athletic.
He became a colossus for Wigan too and won the club’s Player of the Year award for back-to-back campaigns in 2001 and 2002. With his contract running down at Wigan, Harry Redknapp was quick to convince him to move to Portsmouth in the summer of 2002. It was an inspired decision. De Zeeuw’s graft and guile was significant in Portsmouth having the best defensive record on their way to the First Division title in 2002-2003.
Voted Portsmouth’s Player of the Year as they survived their debut season in a creditable 13th position, he was given the captain’s armband by Redknapp in the summer of 2004, succeeding Teddy Sheringham who was heading to join West Ham United. 2004-2005 was de Zeeuw’s best goalscoring season. He scored in three Portsmouth victories, including the winner at Bolton in November 2004. This was the first match in charge for Velimir Zajec, who had succeeded Redknapp days earlier.
Now in the latter days of his career, Arjan wanted to play first-team football regularly but new Pompey manager Alain Perrin refused this request. They fell out and consequently, de Zeeuw was more than happy to rejoin Wigan Athletic for a second spell, and therefore, embark on their maiden adventure in the Premier League.
Again, he had an important role for a newly-promoted side. His performances even won praise from government. Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair went on the BBC’s magazine show Football Focus in November 2005 and said this of de Zeeuw: “He’s really strong, never gives up. I could do with him at the whips’ office!”
After Wigan staved off relegation on the final day of the 2006-2007 season, de Zeeuw was released by the club and was offered a job by Roberto Martinez to join his coaching staff at Swansea City. He decided that he still wanted to play and turned the role down, electing to sign a one-year deal with Coventry City. He left a year later and retired in 2009.
Part of de Zeeuw’s new role sees him specialising in forensics. He still finds occasional time to play football and has even captained the Netherlands national police team.