Steven Pienaar is a player that has fallen off the radar to an extent over recent seasons. Starring for Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, he would be a regular feature on the teamsheet in the Premier League, troubling defenders weekly with his pace, creativity, defence-splitting runs, penetration from the flanks and every so often a goal to put the gloss on his performance.
Originally signed by David Moyes for Everton in 2007 from Borussia Dortmund, he had a brief stint with Spurs before being re-signed by Moyes in 2012, scoring 20 goals across 199 Premier League appearances for the two clubs. He also became a regular feature in the South Africa National Team, and captained Bafana Bafana until his retirement from international duties back in 2012.
However, under Roberto Martinez at Everton once Moyes had left to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Pienaar found opportunities increasingly hard to come by at Goodison Park, often losing out on a starting spot to Kevin Mirallas, Tom Cleverley or Ross Barkley. Now 34, the Johannesburg-born midfielder found himself leaving the Toffees after being released at the end of last season, and it is his former manager David Moyes who has thrown him a lifeline in the Premier League, the Scotsman taking on his first managerial appointment in England since his exit from Old Trafford, at Wearside outfit Sunderland.
Pienaar is an experienced player who still has much to offer creatively, but more importantly he is a player that Moyes can trust, having suffered fatally to rebellion from individuals and eventually losing the dressing room at Old Trafford during his ill-fated reign as Manchester United manager. It won’t be a smooth, easy ride into the first-team for Pienaar however, and he will need to recapture his former spark if he is to do a job for Sunderland and prove that he can still cut it in the Premier League.
Given his previous form down the years, he has been frozen out of the team at Everton simply because of the impact of younger, up and coming stars such as Mirallas and Barkley, and potentially due to the fact Martinez didn’t regard the South African as part of his plans. Pienaar, given his age, is now a veteran and in the twilight years of his career, and his mere six appearances across all competitions in 2015/16 summarised his standing with Roberto Martinez as no more than a bit-part player. He only made 18 appearances in all competitions for the Toffees through the three seasons Martinez was in charge, compared to the 40 times he featured in 2012/13, Moyes’ last season in charge of the Merseyside club. Pienaar contributed seven goals that season. In those three years that followed under Martinez, he only scored once.
At Sunderland, Pienaar is back under the wing of a manager who believes in him and has done throughout his years, and that springboard to go out and perform again may be all he requires to re-ignite his career for one more hurrah with the Black Cats, after three quiet final years on Merseyside. Pienaar has so often proven he is capable of making a great impact with regular first-team football, but he will undoubtedly require patience to re-adjust after being restricted to cameos for three years.
As a model professional who looks after himself, Pienaar is as capable as any player of not allowing age to restrict him. His creativity will undoubtedly provide an extra outlet to serve Jermain Defoe in the forward role, whilst his years of Premier League experience will haver much to offer in standing young stars such as Duncan Watmore and on-loan Adnan Januzaj on good stead and enable them to learn and improve as they develop and look to enhace themselves in their respective careers.
The statistics of course suggest that Pienaar was frozen out by Roberto Martinez at Everton, and this spell at Sunderland gives him an opportunity to prove that. However, after a failed stint at Spurs, they may have been method behind the omission of the South African. What is striking is that his best form in England has all come under Moyes’ management. At Spurs under Harry Redknapp and at Everton under Martinez, Pienaar has simply failed to excel. Perhaps it is more the man-to-man management of Moyes and the relationship between the two that allows Pienaar to blossom. Although he hasn’t done so well at times in the past, under his old boss there is every indication that he will.
It is now up to Pienaar under his old favourite coach to show those lapses in his career were mere blips, and he must do so if he is to end a respectable Premier League career on a high.
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