Former Bafana Bafana captain Steven Pienaar called time on his professional career this week following an illustrious 18-year career.
While Pienaar experienced a rather difficult return to South African football where he was eventually released, only six months after he joined Bidvest Wits, this is only a single blot on a career which has seen him become one of the most respected players to ever leave South African shores.
But while Pienaar is regarded as one of South Africa football’s success stories, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not he can be considered as one of the best players that South Africa has ever produced.
Pienaar left the Premier Soccer League (PSL) at a time where many other South African’s had made the jump to European football and were thriving. Players such as Lucas Radebe, Mark Fish and Shaun Bartlett were only but some of the players who were setting the European stage alight. But while all of those player’s including Radebe undoubtedly made a name for themselves, none quite had the impact Pienaar did.
In a career that spanned almost two decades Pienaar played for some of Europe’s biggest clubs which included a spell at Ajax Amsterdam where he really shot to fame, before eventually moving to even greener pastures in the English Premier League.
During his stay at Ajax, Pienaar would go on to win two Eredivisie titles as well as two Dutch Cup title, but that would really be the only notable accolades that he would win. This perhaps is what separates Pienaar from being regarded as the country’s best export which arguably belongs to a former teammate of his Benni McCarthy.
While Pienaar had the opportunity of playing on the biggest stage of them all in the Uefa Champions League, he had never lifted the prestigious trophy unlike McCarthy. But this does by no means mean that he wasn’t amongst the nation’s best.
Until today, there are very few South African players that have had such an impact in England’s topflight. The 35-year-old who enjoyed two stints at Merseyside club Everton was a fan favourite and is most famously remembered for his heroics which deprived a Sir Alex Ferguson led Manchester United side of another League title in 2012 as he netted a late equaliser.
That was the culmination of several years of being a stalwart of an Everton side which were always on the verge of breaking into the top four only to fall by the wayside as they were pipped to the post by the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and in more recent years Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester City.
Nonetheless, Pienaar will forever be remembered as a player who served the game well and to the best of his ability. But there will always be those who will question his role and commitment to the national team. Pienaar retired from international football in 2012 without truly making an impact which was seen at the time as a massive blow.
The reality though was that Pienaar had never really asserted his authority on the international stage, but this perhaps was down to the fact that none of the Bafana Bafana coaches were able to utilise him effectively. Pienaar would go on to attend two Fifa World Cup’s. One in 2002 and the other in 2010, but he would only feature in the global showpiece that was hosted on home soil.
Nevertheless, despite his struggles over the years in a Bafana jersey and injury woes which has hampered his progress, Pienaar has undoubtedly done enough to cement his name amongst the best South African exports.