Bafana Bafana captain Steve Pienaar insists he has “mixed feelings” but “no regrets” over his R35m move from Everton to Tottenham Hotspur in January.
Pienaar, voted Player of the Year by fans at Goodison Park in 2010, chose not to sign a new deal at Everton and moved to Spurs in a cut-price deal with just six months left on his contract.
But injury and selection problems – he was always going to have trouble forcing his way past a fit Gareth Bale on the left of Harry Redknapp’s midfield – have seen him play just one game for Spurs this season. And that was in a second-string Europa League outfit in the defeat against Rubin Kazan in Russia just before the international break.
Pienaar, outstanding in South Africa’s 1-1 draw against Africa’s No1 side Ivory Coast in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, told The Independent on his return to England his week: “Yes, it’s been a bumpy road at White Hart Lane. It has been a year of mixed feelings, but hopefully I can make it a successful move. Don’t have to show the Spurs fans what I can do, they’ve seen me play against them for Everton.”
But Pienaar rejected a late bid from Chelsea to move to their London neighbours – and ignored warnings from Everton boss David Moyes that he would live to regret his decision to leave Liverpool. But the 29-year-old from Westbury near Johannesburg said: "Regrets? No, not at all. It was a very hard decision to make. It was hard to leave Everton as club and Liverpool as a city. The people I had around me, the players, most of the supporters were very good to me, and I will always be grateful to them.
"It was hard to go, but in life you have to make decisions. I made this one as a footballer and as a human being, and I don't have any regrets about what I chose to do. Not at all."
Pienaar, who left South Africa’s Ajax Cape Town for their mother club in Amsterdam before moving to Borussia Dortmund, was once told he would never play football again when he suffered a serious nerve injury.
He admits: "I had a tough time at Ajax. When I damaged my nerve, they said I'd never play again. I came back strong. I had a difficult spell at Dortmund, and I came back strong. Things like that help you appreciate the things that you do have.
“Being a footballer is only a short career. Having been through all of that helps me appreciate the time I am on the field. It drives you to fight for your place.
“Harry Redknapp (currently off sick for a month after heart surgery) has been very supportive. I want to be part of this team, and I want to show I did not come here by mistake. I have come back twice already, and I will come back again.”
Pienaar has proved he can return from adversity before. Ever since he was first spotted by the Ajax scouts playing for Westbury Arsenal – not a name his current club will enjoy – Pienaar has shown durability, a willingness to succeed despite the odds.
Now running a charity for jailed Johannesburg teenagers, Pienaar offers this explanation of his bouncebackability: "When I grew up in Westbury it was the toughest place in South Africa outside of Soweto. The crime rate was high and life expectancy was short.
"Because our house was in the area where the drug gangs hang out, they'd say to me 'You be our look-out. If you see someone you don't know, whistle.' Sometimes I'd get involved but I was more afraid of my mum than the gangs.
“If she found money in my pockets she'd want to know where it came from. I'd say we'd played football against other boys for money. It was difficult to stay out of trouble. It was a dodgy area and the temptation was huge. I'd be so envious of the boys who'd turn up with new sneakers from their drugs money. But I knew I'd get a hiding from my mum if I got involved.
"Now I realise how fortunate I was to have a mum who was always on my case to get an education. She brought up four children on her own and it was because she was strict we escaped gangs and drug dealers."