If events do not unfold kindly for Boudewijn Zenden in the next few weeks, the Dutchman might find himself staring at his worst-case scenario. To begin with, he may no longer be a Marseille player by the time the 2008 Men's Olympic Football Tournament rolls around. Worse still, he may not even be asked to bolster the Oranje bid in Beijing. After a disappointing first season in France where coach Eric Gerets showed less than total faith in him, the former Barcelona and Liverpool winger is by no means immune to receiving unwelcome news.
That said, everything moves quickly in football and 'Bolo' prefers to imagine a brighter future. The 31-year-old still harbours serious drive and ambition, despite drawing towards the close of a career that has brought him 54 international caps and hardly lacked in highlights. First and foremost he wants to play, starting in China next month.
After a training session under the Marseille sun, he spoke exclusively with FIFA.com about his hopes and dreams.
FIFA.com: Boudewijn, you experienced a tough season at Marseille after everyone expected you to be a starter and a key figure. What happened?
Boudewijn Zenden: There are a lot of intrinsic factors that can move a player forward or, on the contrary, hold him back. In my case, there was a change of coach (Eric Gerets replaced Albert Emon in September 2007) and tactics which didn't work out in my favour. The new coach found a formula that produced results and I wasn't part of it. And when things are working, it's difficult to do anything about that. In football, there are so many factors involved. Take the example of Ricardinho at Middlesbrough. He never got a game there, then he left for Sao Paulo and ended up in the national team! The system, the coach, the style of play - all have a direct influence.
How are you coping with the situation, considering you are approaching the end of your career?
I don't look at my profession differently because I'm 32 and closer to the end of my career than the start. I'm still hungry and my ambition to play at the Olympic Games is huge. I refuse to think differently than I did at the start of my career. I feel good physically and I still have several great years ahead of me. I don't take my limited playing time with OM lightly - far from it. I didn't sign here last summer for the great weather!
Joining Marseille has introduced you to Ligue 1. How do you judge the French championship in comparison with the Spanish Primera Division and English Premier League, where you shone?
In La Liga, attacks start further back and players take their time to build them. Keeping possession of the ball is of prime importance. Here, it's very physical with strikers who have great individual qualities and often make the difference through speed. I'm not surprised by that athletic side to things because every time I played against France with my national team, they were always very strong. In the Premier League, they play the whole 90 minutes at full pelt and are very opportunistic. The play is so quick that it leads to individual or team errors. And, in the end, the three best teams are the ones that make the least errors.
Do you think that your best position these days might be in centre midfield, where you enjoyed your best form for Marseille last season?
I feel good in the centre because I get more touches of the ball and, straight away, I've got more influence on the game. You're more involved and it's more enjoyable when you play in a team that makes a lot of passes through the middle. It's not a new position for me as I scored eight goals for Middlesbrough playing in the middle.
Physically, is it not harder playing on the wing?
When I first started playing 12 years ago, I was in a 4-3-3 formation. At PSV [Eindhoven], my defensive duties were limited but that was because of the system. In the Premier League, it was 4-4-2 with four midfielders in a straight line, so from having to do 20 sprints over 30 metres, I was doing 15 but over 50 metres! Physically, it's much more difficult. As the years go by and you pick up experience, you see the game differently and you think more about the team.
You played for both Barcelona and Liverpool, two European giants. What are the major differences between them?
There is a lot less pressure from the fans in the Premier League. At Liverpool, they're always positive, even when things are going badly. You don't see any outbursts at the stadium and there are no incidents during training. It's not the same culture. At Chelsea (where he played from 2001 to 2003), when we lost everyone thought, "it's not too serious, we'll win next week."
Moving on to the Netherlands, you played for a gifted generation that failed to win anything. Is that frustrating when you look back?
For a country with just 17 million inhabitants, what we did was extraordinary. We were so close to going to the final in 1998 and 2000 and both times we lost on penalties. Maybe the Netherlands can't play for the result and can only play for the beauty of the game itself, which doesn't pay off all the time. Since 1974 and 1978, people have feared us, that's for sure. But sometimes you need luck, like Italy did in 2006, and above all you need a culture different from ours, which puts attractive play and entertaining the fans above the result itself.
How do you explain the success of Dutch clubs, notably Ajax and PSV, despite their best players leaving at regular intervals?
PSV are a very professional club and have a very effective recruitment policy. They rarely get things wrong. They bring in good foreigners who aren't well known, especially from South America, and they turn them into stars. At Ajax, from the age of eight you play in the same formation as the senior team and that makes it possible to have continuity and a real identity to the way you play. The atmosphere is more like that of a family at PSV, though. There is less pressure than at Ajax, the club from the capital, and that can help build a good squad.
What are your most vivid memories from your career?
The 1998 World Cup and the semi-final against Brazil. EURO 2000, which also ended with a semi-final defeat on penalties, against Italy. My individual award in the Netherlands, the [English] League Cup with Middlesbrough and the Champions League final with Liverpool.
If you had to choose one coach out of all the coaches you have had, who would it be?
I've known a lot of coaches, so it's difficult to choose. But I'd say Aad de Mos, who got me to sign my first professional contract at PSV.
And who are the best players you have played with?
There are so many! [Luc] Nilis and Ronaldo at PSV, [Patrick] Kluivert and [Phillip] Cocu at Barça, [Dennis] Bergkamp with the national team, [Emmanuel] Petit, [Marcel] Desailly and [Gianfranco] Zola at Chelsea, [George] Boateng and Juninho [Paulista] at Middlesbrough and [Steven] Gerrard at Liverpool.