It’s summer 2012, the Premier League season is about to begin and Steven Pienaar has just re-joined Everton FC, the team he had left just 18 months earlier. The words ‘he should never have left in the first place’ were etched on everyone’s lips, as the South African midfielder came back to Goodison Park from Tottenham Hotspur, the team he had joined in January 2011.
Harry Redknapp had signed the former Ajax man in the middle of the 2011-12 season, for a fee believed to be £3 million pounds, and he ended a four year stay with Everton to begin a fresh start in North London. However, after a torrid time with injuries and a failure to make a real impression at White Hart Lane, there was only one place where he was destined to go back to – Everton.
After a year at Spurs along came the January transfer window of 2012, it was the final day and supporters anxiously waited to see who their respective Club’s would sign or sell. Everton managed to capture the loan signing of Pienaar and the news broke late that night that the South African was returning to Merseyside on a six month deal. After securing a temporary switch back to Goodison Park and decent second half to the Premier League season, Pienaar made no secret of his desire to come back to stay at the Club he joined permanently in 2008 following a loan spell from Dortmund. In the summer of 2012, that wish became reality as Pienaar permanently re-signed for Everton for a reported fee of £4.5 million as David Moyes ended the then 30 year old’s nightmare at Spurs. Pienaar signed a four year deal with the Toffees and since then he has not looked back. The former Dortmund man went on to make 35 appearances of our 39 EPL fixtures that term, scoring seven goals in all competitions – his joint most fruitful haul since first arriving at Goodison Park.
Fast forward to Saturday, the 11th January 2014, things are slightly different at Everton with an exciting, expressive vision of Martinez ideology taking the Club by storm. But one thing is still the same, his name is Steven Pienaar and he is still here, still doing his thing, it’s the Steven Pienaar we know and love – a player who really is in a class of his own. Pienaar came off injured against Norwich on Saturday and earlier this season he was out for nearly two months with a hamstring problem; probably a sign of an ageing player and the knocks he once recovered easily from take their toll a bit more these days. However, with age might come more niggling problems, but it certainly hasn’t hampered his qualities in a Royal Blue shirt. If you want to talk consistency at Everton then you’d point the finger at Tim Howard, probably Jagielka, and Baines maybe too. This season we’ve got new names and faces and they are taking the plaudits for their consistency and stand-out performances – James McCarthy being one – Gareth Barry a very impressive other, but in Steven Pienaar we have a player who oozes class, positivity, consistency and a player who possesses such a clever footballing brain – and he’s been doing it for years.
What impresses me most about Steven Pienaar is his ability to draw a tackle, suck the opposition in, then either win a free kick or make a superb, exciting pass that creates an opening. Pienaar’s game is all about angles, the neat little passes, a cutting ball through a defence or a cut back for someone to shoot, he loves a lay-off, a one-two, minimal space but maximum effectiveness, and he’s a joy to watch. One criticism would probably be his lack of goals but overall Steven’s game is something that keeps you interested, he makes on looking fans excited and thirsty to see what he can do next. His size and stature makes him difficult to mark, hard to take the ball off and often leaves opposing defenders scratching their heads. He gets fouled an awful lot and yes he probably does go down easily but just you watch him the next time he’s on the pitch for Everton – he is so clever with the ball at his feet. Even when he isn’t in possession his positioning is great too, obviously his understanding with Baines is brilliant but he does link up with our other players, and he’s played with a real variation of shapes, sizes and qualities since first joining Everton on-loan back in 2007, just think of how many players have been and gone since then.
Young aspiring footballers should carefully watch Pienaar play; he never resorts to anything dramatic, he just keeps the ball well, brings others into the game and offers offensive attributes that are still brilliant today. At 31 (32 in March) Pienaar doesn’t appear to be losing any of his qualities and apart from the fact he’s had a few more injuries in recent times overall he is a huge asset to have at the Club and someone who is embracing this new vision we have – it suits him down to a tee. The former South African Captain has now retired from international football and is solely focussing on his Club career and he still continues to do the business for the Toffees in the English top flight. Like Osman, Pienaar may not be as quick as he once was, but the trickery them two have, paired with the smart running and creativity of others in this current Everton side, is definitely the mix of players we have been waiting to see for years. Youngsters like Deulofeu and Barkley learning from the likes of Pienaar and Osman, the creative old-timers and the young breed of Everton, all complimenting one and other. The old cliché of ‘blend, youth and experience’ has never been more relevant and Pienaar still remains at the heart of Everton’s attacking and link up qualities, regardless of who we bring to the Club.
The relationship he has with Baines is something fans and the media like to talk about a lot but the reason why I haven’t mentioned the Blues left back much in this piece is because I don’t want to take anything away from Pienaar. Some say he ‘relies on Baines’ but I’d argue against that, I’d like to think that all of this squad rely on all of their colleagues and not just the relationship between one or two of them just because they play down the same side. It is an excellent understanding they have, but regardless of this, in my opinion Steven Pienaar has been one of the Club’s best acquisitions of recent years and one of David Moyes’ best ever signings – and he is a real example too. His energy, intent and willingness to bomb forward is something you want to see from all of your attackers; he goes at players twice his size and makes a mug of them, before providing that defence-splitting ball that we’ve been seeing for years. The ball sticks to his feet and his diminutive figure makes it appear like he is gliding when in possession, and don’t try and tackle him, because he’ll just have you off! Pienaar will soon surpass 200 appearances for Everton and in truth this current spell could be classed as his fourth period with the Club (2 loans, 2 permanent deals), he is such a talented footballer and although he may not seem the most enthusiastic of players, his qualities and influence haven’t gone unnoticed by me and many other Evertonians too.
So for all of the noise being made about Barkley, the excitement we feel when Mirallas or Deulofeu are in possession, the compliments we are paying McCarthy and Barry, and the way in which we have taken to Lukaku, it is Steven Pienaar who was here before all of them, and I certainly appreciate what he has brought to this Club over the years. The South African is well suited to having these current type of players around him, he was at Ajax don’t forget, and with Martinez bringing a new approach and a footballing vision that embraces patient possession and creativity, Pienaar continues to flourish and there is no sign of this letting up any time soon.