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Pienaar ready for defining moment

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Dan Roan | 07:22 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Steven Pienaar could be forgiven for basking in the limelight of an outstanding season that has seen him named Everton's Player of the Year and attract the interest of the biggest clubs in the Premier League.

But, as the midfielder relaxes in the end-of-season sunshine at Finch Farm, his club's multi-million pound training complex, his mind wanders to a place thousands of miles away from Merseyside.

To Johannesburg, where, in just a month from now, Pienaar will experience the defining moment of his career and perhaps his life.

At just 5ft 7in tall, he is small in stature, but Pienaar realises that, when he walks out for the World Cup's opening match, he must shoulder the weight of expectation that 30 million South Africans will place on the host nation's only world-class player.

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"I'm getting more nervous now," he tells me. "You used to think it's still another year. Now it is weeks and soon it will be days. The closer you get the more tense you become. But I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait.

"For me, it's really tough because everyone expects you to do well. Of course, I want to do well every game I play. It is a lot of pressure, but it's OK. The team will always help me to cope.

"I think it will be a really special moment, not only for the players but for all South Africa and the whole continent, because it is going to be a day of history, like when Nelson Mandela came out of prison. For us, it is special because it is the first World Cup on African soil. We're going to make history."

Pienaar is looking firmly forward as the Rainbow Nation prepares to welcome the world. But come 11 June, the odd flashback is inevitable as he reflects on his own remarkable journey. Because home is just a few miles from the immense 95,000-capacity Soccer City stadium where South Africa face Mexico on 11 June.

Westbury is the notorious Johannesburg township where Pienaar grew up, survived and, through football, escaped.

"Of course, it was very tough to be raised by a single mother in a gang-infested area," he reflects. "Everyday life in a township in South Africa is gun-fighting, drive-bys, drugs going on around you, all sorts of things. But I was quite fortunate. I had a really strong mother who believed in us, wanted the best for us and made sure we always were kept away from the streets and all the bad stuff."

On Pienaar's leg is a permanent reminder of the reality of life in the ghetto. A tattoo, dedicated to the memory of a close friend he lost to gun violence.

"When I think back, I sometimes pinch myself because a lot of things could have happened while I was still in South Africa and I'm really fortunate I got the opportunity to make something of my talent and God created my path for me," he says. "I still can't believe it because it was only 10 years ago I was still in Westbury, so it's still in my head."

Having been invited to attend South Africa's School of Football Excellence, Pienaar graduated from Ajax's satellite team in Cape Town and quickly established himself with the parent club in Amsterdam. But the committed Christian is brutally frank about what would have happened to him if his sporting talent had not been noticed.

"Maybe in jail somewhere or maybe dead," he admits sadly.

Pienaar's tough upbringing make him better placed than most to judge South Africa's ability to stage a secure and safe World Cup, but he seems unconcerned.

"I think it is under control because the government is really working overtime to make sure," he says. "We know people have questioned South Africa about security, but there won't be any problems."

Pienaar left his homeland for Europe aged 18, but he is proud of his roots and is confident that the World Cup will help heal the scars of apartheid that so stubbornly remain. This a man aware of the way things used to be and the way they still are.

"Africa's got a lot of poverty," he says. "Through sport, that's the only way you can touch people. Fifa giving South Africa the World Cup is even more touching because the people can at least be happy for a while. I think Mandela said it once, sport brings people together, unites people. It did happen in 1995 so it can happen again now in 2010."

Steven Pienaar celebrates an Everton goal
Steven Pienaar has been in excellent form with Everton

Having come from a neighbourhood that was created by the dark forces of apartheid, Pienaar is all too aware that the colour of his skin would have barred him from representing his country had he been born in a previous era.

"The World Cup will definitely improve people's lives," says Pienaar. "There's a lot of job opportunities now and I hope that the facilities will still be there for younger people to use them and make the country an even better place."

Pienaar knows there is no chance of elumating his namesake from rugby, Francois, and helping the hosts to actually win their very own World Cup. At 90th in the world, no host nation has ever been ranked so low and Bafana Bafana will seriously struggle to qualify from a group containing Mexico, Uruguay and France.

"We're ranked so low because of one thing: poor results," says Pienaar.

"But it's also a good thing because we know a lot of people don't expect anything from us, so that's for us to just go out and enjoy ourselves and make the best of it. If we don't qualify, I think people will be disappointed but it is a football crazy country, so I don't think the stadiums will be empty even if we are knocked out."

Pienaar is among that rare breed of footballer whose life experiences have given him a sense of perspective. Twenty years after the release of his hero from prison, this is a sportsman who knows what is at stake for his country this summer. Now, a decade after his own escape, the boy from Westbury is going home.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    All the best in RSA Steven, thanks for a fantastic year at Everton lets all hope you are still there next year!

  • Comment number 2.

    Pienarr has been fantastic all year for us.

    I hope he scores a hattrick against the French!

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Sorry Dan, but this blog lost all credibility when you described Steven Pienaar as world class.

    He's nowhere near. A good premiership player, but there are better in his own team who still aren't close to being world class.

  • Comment number 5.

    Wouldn't be too sure.. not one football fan (truthful) would have thought that S Korea would have got so far.. home advantage can help a fair amount.. and that group isn't a foregone conclusion.. France got in the backdoor and have had a massive amount of confusion regarding their manager and if he would keep his job.. pair that with the new revelations of police cases against some players and you have problems.. Mexico and Uruguay are certainly beatable and may suffer from the what version of the team will turn up..

    After that its pot luck..

  • Comment number 6.

    Sign him up moyes!

  • Comment number 7.

    Very good article Dan, but you say that Pienaar has "attract(ed) the interest of the biggest clubs in the Premier League." He already IS at one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League. It's become all too easy these days to confuse "richest" for "biggest". As a life-long Evertonian, i (begrudgingly) would only accept that Man. Utd. are a bigger club than Everton in the english game. Hopefully we will now see the laughable term "Big 4" no longer used - as Lawro says, it's really a "Big 8".

  • Comment number 8.

    Sign him up Moyes!

  • Comment number 9.

    Great article.

    He's been great for Everton all year and I hope he does himself proud for South Africa in the summer. So nice to see a footballer with a sense of perspective and I really hope he's still with the Blues in August!

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    Liverpool fan here. Top drawer footballer but went missing and was lucky not to get sent off in the derby this year. That said I would be happy if Rafa added him to our squad certainly better than Lucas. It is sad for Blues to say this but I suspect he may well be on to pastures new with a Champions League side and if he does I hope that they will wish him well in plying his trade at the highest level. I like to see Everton do well, but not as well as us obviously, so I hope he stays. Good spot that by Moyes.
    Also well done to the Blue noses for their second half of the season, whilst ours has been a calamity from day one they were excellent since the new year.

  • Comment number 12.

    All the best Steven. Your country needs you. Make us proud.

  • Comment number 13.

    @Rovers Return - HKR AWAY DAYS :
    Please clarify what your problem is.
    I am sure this is not your platform to air your political views or racial preference.
    It's purely about sportmanship.

  • Comment number 14.

    There's over 43 million South Africans, not 30 million as mentioned in this blog. Are the other 13 million supporting Mexico? I think not!!

    Can the European media please get their facts straight when writing or commenting about our country?

  • Comment number 15.

    Great Article
    Nice to know some insights about the SA and Pienaar

  • Comment number 16.

    "@Rovers Return - HKR AWAY DAYS :
    Please clarify what your problem is.
    I am sure this is not your platform to air your political views or racial preference.
    It's purely about sportmanship."

    I didn't think it would be long before my post was removed. It was a valid question. I didn't mention Mandela, Pienaar did. I'm simply looking for expansion on the subject. It is a shame nobody dare push the boat out a bit and answer honestly.

  • Comment number 17.

    By mentioning Pienaar as world class Dan, you've reignited an old debate of who deserves to be called 'world class', but in my opinion Pienaar would walk into any of the top teams in the world.

    Been one of my favourite players from South Africa since his Ajax days. Won't forget that superb goal he scored at the Emirates...Since then fans here treat him with more respect! I hope he leads SA's challenge at the world cup well, may God bless.

    By the way, what's his secret with those backheels?! He's already assisted like 5 goals that way...How come he never gets one wrong?!

  • Comment number 18.

    pienaar is world-class,im a utd supporter and would have him in our first 11 in a second.people saying everton dont have world class players are deluded,cahill,pienaar,saha,jagielka are all world class. but i accept pienaar is the only world class SA player.

  • Comment number 19.

    Pienaar is a very good Premier League player, at times excellent - but to describe him as world-class is stretching it.

    That may change though, depending on his performances over the next few weeks.

    https://footballfutbolfitba.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 20.

    Dan this is one of the best artical i have seen recently. it was very touching to see what he had to go through growing up as a child. but noow he has 30 million people behind him he is a insperation to us all

  • Comment number 21.

    A very well written article and what a brutal honesty from Pienaar!

  • Comment number 22.

    I hope Peanuts doesn't do another Rooney on us by leaving a decision on whether to stay to the very last minute. Sign up, lad. And have a great World Cup. In Moyes we trust.

  • Comment number 23.

    CantonasStarchedCollar and footballfutbolfitba Your both exposing yourself as being 2 wally's, for the use of a better word that know nothing about football.
    I'm a Spurs supporter, I have friends who support Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal and they all say Pienaar is world class.
    Do you honestly think Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City and Spurs have been credited with an interest in him because he's mediocre???

    Your basing your opinions on stats. You need to observe the player throughout a game to formulate a credible opinion. They say the best players in the world always seem to have more time than others, this is true for Pienaar. In terms of his creative ability and vision both line of sight and peripheral, he's outstanding.

    Next time if your gonna criticise a player or a expert opinion, than be constructive.

  • Comment number 24.

    CantonasStarchedCollar and footballfutbolfitba Your both exposing yourself as being 2 wally's, for the use of a better word that know nothing about football.
    I'm a Spurs supporter, I have friends who support Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal and they all say Pienaar is world class.
    Do you honestly think Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City and Spurs have been credited with an interest in him because he's mediocre???

    Your basing your opinions on stats. You need to observe the player throughout a game to formulate a credible opinion. They say the best players in the world always seem to have more time than others, this is true for Pienaar. In terms of his creative ability and vision both line of sight and peripheral, he's outstanding.

    Next time if your gonna criticise a player or a expert opinion, than be constructive.

    -----------------------------------------------------------------

    Not seeing any expert opinion as yet.
    Steven Pienaar isn't world class. Thats not based on stats, something which you have just made up, as I never mentioned stats.
    I'm very aware how to form an opinion of a player thanks, and your very simple, limited explanation merely shows you up.
    He's not Evertons best player, Arteta is. And Arteta isn't world class.
    It's not a criticism to say that he is not world class. I was criticising the blog more than the player. I like Pienaar, he's an exciting player, and a good player. Just not a world class one.
    There are so many players better than Pienaar in his position who are better than him I'm afraid.
    You mentioned mediocre, not me. So apart from putting words in my mouth, again, you've also conjured up interest from a few big clubs, which I must admit, I am not aware of.
    And tbh, don't believe the hype. Transfer rumours mean nothing till a deal goes through or there is an official statement or contact between the clubs.
    Going back to my original statement, anyone who rates Pienaar as world class loses all credibility for me, and hence my opinion of this blog was rather low.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    see this is what i don't get Pienaar is NOT world class, to be world class you have to be better than everyone else in your position or at least top 5, i can think of several wingers without even having to think that are better than Pienaar right now.

    Ronaldo
    Messi
    (although both could arguably be counted as forwards)
    Robben
    Ribery (just)

    and on the basis of this season you would have to say Malouda is better than Pienaar aswell.

    Really gets me when peuple use the world class term for every decent player when they are not world class they just good or great.

  • Comment number 27.

    Nani
    Simao
    Di Maria
    Ronaldinho
    Vargas
    Thats 10 then, I could go on...

  • Comment number 28.

    Peanuts is an awesome player. The best piece of transfer buisness we can do this summer is get him signed up to another contract. He is deservedly our player of the season and while Arteta may be the main man at Goodison (every bit as good as Fabregas by the way) Peinaar is certainly up there with him.

    I really hope he does well and helps SA shine on home soil in the World Cup, then comes back to Goodison ready to step up another level next season.

    As for World Class or not, he is probably not in that bracket of Messi, Rooney, Kaka, Torres, but define world class, he is certainly up there with the best players in the Prem. An example of his class is the goal he scored at the Emirates, a certain Senor Messi scored a very similar chip against Arsenal, he must have seen Peanuts do it first and copied him!

  • Comment number 29.

    I think everybody is missing the point. No, I know everybody is missing the point !! To be deemed World Class you do not have to be considered to be in a starting 11 for the 'World Team' .... You just need to be good enough to play on the World Stage ... ie ... TV !!

    Pienaar is quality, that cannot be questioned ... but no 2 people would pick the same starting 11 for a 'World Team' ...

    However, if YOU picked your own 'World Team' and had an injury on the right, then Pienaar could fill that role, would not look oit of place and would not let the side down ... so that makes him WORLD CLASS

    How easy was that ?

  • Comment number 30.

    irishtoffee it would be good if you could begrudgingly ha as you put it wait ha you are a fan of a mid sized club there are 6 or 7 bigger than you and a few of them have more money your one of the best of the rest but the rest is a big place to be and its as far as you will ever get

  • Comment number 31.

    So God charted a good life for him while so many other people died early deaths?

  • Comment number 32.

    Sports Fan and Cantona why are you under the presumption that Pienaar is a WINGER???
    Pienaar is not a winger, that is not his favoured position, that is where he plays for everton because Everton prefer him to play there. Plus he compliments Baines well.
    When he was at Ajax he used to play in a 4-3-1-2 formation in front of Sneijder and De jong and behind Ibrahimovic. He is an attacking central midfielder, when he went to Borussia Dortmund he was a direct replacement for Tomas Rosicky.

    AND PLEASE!! stop comparing him to all these other players Robben, Messi Nani so on. Your only as good as your team-mates allow you to be. How effective do you think Di Maria would be at Everton with Phil Neville knocking 60 yard long balls for Saha and Anichebe all day long???

  • Comment number 33.

    firstly good luck to SA, hope you make it out of the groups stages;

    Secondly, debating whether a player is world class is a matter of opinion, and will differ from expert to expert, i agree Piennar is an excellent player, but in my opinion to be classed world class you have to make an impact at world level (i.e champions league, or equivalent; euro's, copa america or the world cup), as he has not had the pleasure of playing in these competions as yet, there is only promise that he could mix it with the best. I hope that this summer he proves he can, and makes a mockery of the french, what is domech thinking picking diaby not nasri, cookoo cookoo.

  • Comment number 34.

    "... he must shoulder the weight of expectation that 30 million South Africans will place on the host nation's only world-class player."

    What happened to the other 13 million people ?
    When Pienaar gave his speech on winnign the Rugby world cup there were 43 million. Has there been an exodus that nobody mentioned or are you tring to say that only part of the country will be supporting the team.
    If the latter then you have no idea what you are talking about, sport is a religion in SA and ANY national team on the world stage gets support from the country as a whole.

  • Comment number 35.

    I think he's an excellent player; he had a very good game at the Emirates when I saw him for 90 minutes and has impressed when I've seen him on TV. He's clearly put a good shift in this season to get the Player of Year award. I wish people would stop using "world class" to describe footballers. Pundits have been falling over themselves to describe so many Premier League players (and too few from elsewhere) over the past few years as "world class" that it's practically meaningless.

  • Comment number 36.

    Great blog, as an Ajax fan I've seen this guy emerging from nowhere and from the start he showed vision and finesse. He has been a great player for us and deserves a fitting finale to the end of his career.

  • Comment number 37.

    The guy is quality, I have watched him home and away all season long .... if he wasn't world class we would not debate about him ... just hope he has a great World Cup, stays fit and healthy ... and wears the Blue of Everton come August ... COYB

  • Comment number 38.

    Pienaar's talent and workrate was apparent from the moment he arrived at Everton. He took a short while to get up to Prem speed, but he was playing excellently MUCH more quickly than the OPINION he was playing excellently caught on.

    I saw him give the ball away earlier this season. It was amazing. That should say it all about him....he keeps possession, creates goals, chips in with a few, runs all day long, never shirks his team responsibility and he DOES have more time on the ball than other players it seems. Again an attribute of class. I think he is a better player than Arteta.

    Pienaar actually has a 'trademark' skill too, something I've not seen other players do... the quick foot roll dummy he does is ingenious, so energy inexpensive and so effective at buying him time. He does it from standing and he does it on the run, he does it in multiple directions.

    And of course he has outstanding vision for a pass, and outstanding consistency in delivering that pass. He is also one of the best users of the deceptive back heel too (and Timmy Cahill ain't bad at it either, if less graceful).

    Pienaar is class. Top class. World class. Whatever. It's a way of saying he is a brilliant footballer, which he is.

  • Comment number 39.

    Pienaar is a great player and I hope his experience will at least take Bafana bafana out of the group stages.The RSA will stage a memorable world cup and as a frequent visitor to the country I find the comments about safety as scaremongering-its a wicked place and those lucky enough to be going will have a fantastic time.

  • Comment number 40.

    I must admit when Everton signed Pienaar I had my reservations about whether he would cut it. I thought he might suffer due to the physicality of the Premier League but how wrong I was! Pienaar has been consistently excellent for Everton and represents another gem uncovered by David Moyes.

    https://the-fa-premier-league.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 41.

    After watching Mokoena keeping Chelsea at bay for so long almost single-handedly in today's FA Cup Final, I'd say SA have at least 2 potentially world-class players. It probably won't be enough but I would LOVE to see them beat France, just LOVE it.

    Spamburger
    (France)

  • Comment number 42.

    Is it because he's from AFRICA, is that why some of you don't classify him world class.

  • Comment number 43.

    Its laughable the way the term "world class" is banded around these days...Pienaar is a good, consistent player in the premier league.
    World class is lampard, xavi, messi, robben, rooney etc etc...but not too many etcs.
    I hate hearing people just throw world class around coz somenone has had a good season and the world cup happens to be in his home country.
    Get a grip....

  • Comment number 44.

    Could it just possibly be that different people have a different opinion of what "world class" means?

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 46.

    I think markrp is spot on, people have different ideas of what world class is. My problem with supporters of the likes of Manchester United
    (not all - some have made some good points and credited Pienaar) is that some have a tendancy to believe that you only become 'world class' when you play for a club like Manchester United. Pienaar is arguably the best left mid in the premier league, if he isn't it is not by much and he is not behind many. He is also part of, in my opinion, the best left side in the country, if not they're only second to Ashley Cole and Malouda...the issue again is that with supporters of other clubs they will not acceot this is possible for a non-'top four' club as they probably watch less than ten minutes of Everton a fortnight when we are last on Match of the Day.

  • Comment number 47.

    Yes tkgi-namib we don't think he's world class because he's from Africa.

    Come on get a grip mate!!! Do you honestly think that argument is justified.

  • Comment number 48.

    No player is bigger than the club and when they play "The Story of the Blues" at the Wilmslow disco in years to come, he will just be remembered as a part player in the history of Everton. Personally I hope he signs a new contract because he is one of a select few that have put in a quality performance week after week this season. if not then we move onwards and hopefully upwards.

 

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