Steven Pienaar was last night included in Pitso Mosimane’s Bafana Bafana squad for the Nelson Mandela Challenge against Ivory Coast on November 23 – before making his first start of the season for an under-strength Tottenham in their Europa League clash at Russian outfit Rubin Kazan.
Mosimane’s announcement will provide South Africa’s captain with a brief distraction – and a welcome chance of actually getting on the field.
Pienaar, player of the season at Everton just two seasons ago, admits his move to Tottenham Hostpur has turned into a “nightmare” and that he feels he is “bottom of the pile” at a club blessed with an abundance of talented midfielders.
Last night he twittered: “It's always hard coming to a new club and getting injured but I'm determined to prove my worth to the spurs fans. Greetings from Kazan.”
Last January, as 29-year-old Pienaar let his Everton contract dwindle to a conclusion under the guidance of agent Rob “You’d better apologise” Moore, Chelsea nearly swept in to claim the Johannesburg-born midfielder in a cut-price move.
Spurs prevailed and Moore’s most important asset went to White Hart Lane for just £2m (R24m). When I queried the agent’s eagerness to move his client from Goodison Park to White Hart Lane’s over-populated midfield, Moore told me: “It’s Steven’s decision, he wants to play Champions League football. Everton aren’t ambitious enough.”
When I quoted him on that, Moore demanded I send an apology to Everton surpemo Bill Kenwright. I did. And that’s the last I heard from Mr Moore.
Spurs failed to qualify for the Champions League last season – with Manchester City spending like Julius Malema in Mauritius that was always on the cards - and Pienaar’s career has slumped as I predicted when he decided to take a pay rise rather than stay loyal to Everton and their adoring fans.
It isn’t all Moore’s fault. An ironic clash of heads with fellow South African Bongani Khumalo was the first major blow as the two Bafana Bafana internationals trained together at Chigwell. Both joined the club in January and Khumalo, represented by Moore’s partner Glyn “No Reply” Binkin, has yet to play for the Spurs first team – the former Supersports United captain has since gone out on loan to Championship also-rans Reading and, like Pienaar, is struggling to get a game.
Pienaar, one of the first names on Everton boss David Moyes’ team-sheets for three seasons, has played just 12 games for Harry Redknapp since January, with his Bongani-bonking concussion in February followed by a groin injury in April.
When the new season began, Pienaar and Khumalo came out to South Africa with Spurs for the Vodacom Challenge full of promise – but Pienaar’s groin flared up in their final pre-season friendly against Athletic Bilbao. The specialist recommended surgery which ruled the lad from Westbury out until mid-September.
All that is history. But exactly what has happened to Pienaar since then? He didn’t feature in South Africa’s embarrassing CAF exit at the hands of Sierra Leone last month and with West Ham’s Scott Parker added to Redknapp’s midfield and Gareth Bale excelling on Pienaar’s favoured left-hand side, he has yet to play in the first team.
Pienaar, who finally got a start in last night’s low-key clash in Russia, admits: “It's been the most difficult period of my career. When you join a new team, you want to start fully fit but I got injured quite early and it slowed down my progress.
“Before the operation we thought we would wait and see how the groin injury developed but it just got worse. I had the operation, things were going well, but then I had two setbacks. Sometimes when you try to get back early, that happens.
“But I'm over the nightmare now so hopefully I can get back in the side.”
Redknapp was unable to impress Redknapp first hand last night – the 64-year-old was in hostpital recovering from “minor heart surgery” and assistant Kevin Bond was left in charge. But Pienaar remains determined to resurrect his career: “When you get injured, you fall down the pecking order. You are basically the bottom of the pile. I have been working to win a place in the team.
“You have to make sure you get fit, be patient and train hard.“
Whether Bafana Bafana fans will actually see Pienaar in action against the mighty Ivorians next Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth – and in a friendly against Zimbabwe away three days later – remains to be seen. Given his current plight, he may just fly out because he needs a game.
But don’t hold your breath. Despite the FIFA rules, a recuperating Redknapp will decide to captains Bafana, not Pitso Mosimane.
Goalkeepers: Moeneeb Josephs, Wayne Sandilands.
Defenders: Tsepo Masilela, Punch Masenamela, Musa Bilankulu, Morgan Gould, Bongani Khumalo, Siyabonga Sangweni, Happy Jele, Anele Ngcongca, Bevan Fransman, Siboniso Gaxa.
Midfielders: Daylon Claasen, Hlompho Kekana, Oupa Manyisa, Thanduyise Khuboni, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Granwald Scott, George Maluleka, George Lebese, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Teko Modise, Steven Pienaar.
Strikers: Kermit Erasmus, Siyabonga Nontshinga, Brad Grobler, Katlego Mphela.