After an impressive trial on Wearside, Zenden yesterday penned a contract until the end of the season, with a view to a further year, as he attempts to make the most of another chance in the Premier League.
The 33-year-old, who has been looking for a return to England after opting against signing a new deal at Marseille, was part of the Chelsea team that helped condemn Sunderland to the Championship in April 2003.
Those hard times during the final few years of the Bob Murray reign, however, seem a million miles away now, with Sunderland intent on breaking into Europe under the ownership of Ellis Short and the guidance of Niall Quinn and Steve Bruce.
Zenden, although cautious, senses something special could be on the cards.
He said: I had a few other things lined up but I never had a proper feeling (for other offers).
I have played against Sunderland before but I have never seen the Academy and the training ground. It is rather impressive and I like the way it is all set up.
Its very professional and it looks like everyone is working as a team with the right ideas to take the club on to the next level. They have the right ideas and the willingness to move forward.
Towards the end of last season a few people had been squeezing their bums a bit to stay in the Premier League but this time around we have had a good start and the vibe is very positive. You just need to build on that and see how far you can get.
In an ironic twist, Zenden hopes to play some part against Liverpool today, the club he left in the summer of 2007 after playing in the Champions League final defeat to AC Milan in Athens.
I have great memories of my time there but personally it was a bit up and down, said the former Dutch international, who was a renowned winger for PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona and Chelsea during his younger days.
The crowd there on the Kop and the special evenings playing in Europe were things I will never forget. The way things work out in football can be very weird sometimes.
Funnily enough, when I left Boro for Liverpool, my first game was against them, so it just happens like that.
Having turned down the option of a further two years in the south of France to go in search of a return to the Premier League, it is easy to come to the assumption that he never really wanted to turn his back on the English league.
I am still pleased with the experience I got in France and dont forget that Marseille are the biggest club in France,
said Zenden, who was also wanted by Portsmouth, Stoke and Hull.
I played in the Champions League and the UEFA Cup but you do get the feeling that you want to be involved with everything which is going on in the Premier League.
I like the way the fans look at the game here, how the media look at the game, the fact that the stadiums are full, there are no fences, there is a positive feeling around the whole football thing. There is very rarely any trouble.
A few things happened in France, we had some stones thrown at our coach, but not by the Marseille fans. I know about when fans went to the PSG training ground and stormed in, so those kind of things do happen.
It is not just a return to England, it is a return to the North-East for a player who left Middlesbrough at the end of his contract in 2005, little more than a year after scoring a penalty in Boros Carling Cup triumph in Cardiff.
It seems there have been some problems in the North- East. At one point last season all three teams could have gone down, said Zenden.
I know Boro have opted to use younger players, which is a good thing, but it is hard to use all of them and then expect the biggest results.