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Steven Pienaar: Does he belong among Bafana Bafana's greats?

13:00 GMT+3 17/03/2022
Steven Pienaar | Everton
As the South Africa legend turns 40, GOAL assesses his standing among his country's finest players

Former Bafana Bafana captain Steven Pienaar, who turns 40 on Thursday, was a polarising figure in his homeland during his career, but where should he be considered among South Africa's greatest players?

While things didn't entirely work out for the attacker at the tail end of his career, when he returned to the PSL with Bidvest Wits, this was a rare blot on an otherwise magnificent career during which he became one of the most respected players to ever leave South African shores.

However, while Pienaar is regarded as one of South Africa football’s success stories, can he be considered as one of the best players that the country has ever produced?

Pienaar left the Premier Soccer League at a time where many other South Africans had made the jump to European football and were thriving.

Players such as Lucas Radebe, Mark Fish and Shaun Bartlett were some of the players who were setting the European stage alight, but did any have the impact of Pienaar?

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 Premier League.

During his stay at Ajax, Pienaar would go on to win two Eredivisie titles as well as two Dutch Cups, although the silverware dried up thereafter.

Perhaps this is what keeps the 40-year-old from being considered at the same level as his former teammate 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.

Until today, there are very few South African players that have the same impact in England’s top flight as Pienaar.

The 40-year-old, who enjoyed two stints at Merseyside club Everton, was a fan favourite and is perhaps 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 in a remarkable 4-4 draw for Everton.

That was the culmination of several years of being a stalwart of a Toffees 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, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.

Nonetheless, Pienaar will forever be remembered as a player who served the game well and to the best of his ability.

However, 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, a contribution which has been viewed as a massive disappointment.

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 Cups - in 2002 and 2010 - but he would only feature in the global showpiece that was hosted on home soil, taking part in all three matches including the famous victory over France.

Nevertheless, despite his struggles over the years in a Bafana jersey and the injury woes which hampered his progress, Pienaar has surely done enough to cement his name amongst the best South African players in the game's history.

by Yusuf Variava