Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Becks says no to Everton and prepares for England's hopeless World Cup bid

DAVID BECKHAM arrived in Zurich for the England’s hopeless 2018 World Cup bid tomorrow insisting he will NOT be returning to play in the Premier League with Everton.

Goodison Park boss David Moyes said he wanted England’s most capped outfield player to join the Blue Merseysiders on loan during the LA Galaxy off-season, having worked with the iconic Becks at the start of his career when he was on loan at Preston North End from Manchester United.

Beckham, a still-sprightly 35, delivered this devastating reply before the World Cup vote in Zurich tomorrow: "Moyesie has done an amazing job at Everton but I am a Manchester United fan.

“It is always great to be wanted by different managers and different teams. Even if it's on loan or a more permanent spell, it's always nice. But it’s too close to home... and United.”

Beckham joins Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince William in England’s “three Lions” strike force at the World Cup ballot tonight. But he knows Russia have emerged as firm favourites to attract the majority of the 23 votes from the much-maligned FIFA Executive Committee in Switzerland tomorrow.

Against the backdrop of new sex revelations – described as a “smear campaign” against England’s best known footballer – Beckham shrugged off the effect of Monday night’s controversial BBC Panorama investigation accusing FIFA officials of involvement in a £64m corruption scandal: “Hopefully I will make a difference. There are many people, like Prince William, who have been involved and working hard for the bid and to get it to this final point.”

Whilst the BBC are unlikely to attract English votes after accusing Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, CAF’s Issa Hayatou and CONCACAF chief Nicolas Leoz of taking bribes more than ten years ago, England’s bid team leader Andy Anson insisted: “FIFA gave us a very strong evaluation and have just published an economic study which puts England way ahead of its competitors.

“Of course I’m disappointed with the timing of the Panorama allegations. The FIFA executive committee is a small group of 22 people.

“If you hurt one of them of course it has an impact on others, that’s just inevitable. It won’t win us any votes. But if you combine the two, we clearly have the strongest bid. We have the perfect foundation.”

Sadly, both Anson and Beckham are deluded. England may have the infrastructure and the stadiums, but FIFA President Sepp Blatter loves to give the World Cup to controversial venues, as South Africans are only too aware after 2010. And with the Russians confident of at least ten votes, only five are left for England.

Spain and Portugal, who claim to have wrapped up eight votes already, are second favourites, leaving England ahead of just the environmentally-friendly bid from Holland and Belgium, who may claim no votes at all.

As this correspondent said last week, Russia deserve it – and they’re welcome to it if they really are going to spend £6bn on white elephants as FIFA reap the real rewards.

For further evidence, try this from Arsenal’s pint-sized “meerkat”, Russian ambassador Andrei Arshavin: ''We have never had a World Cup. Hosting it in Russia would open up new minds and new hearts for the game. It would be a completely new chapter for the World Cup.

''Russia is a huge country, the biggest on earth. Everything is extra-large, including the organisation of the game. We are building pitches, football centres, schools and training venurd in the most remote areas of our country, growing the game and providing opportunities for youngsters.

“We are working hard to modernise the infrastructure and we are building stadiums. It has been said that a huge effort is being needed. It is already underway, as can be seen in my native Saint Petersburg with the new stadium that will be finished by late 2012, or in Kazan, Sochi and elsewhere.”

So Russia it is then. Never mind the distances, the corruption, the crime, the reality. You read it here first. And 2022? Given Blatter’s predilection for money and the unusual, expect oil-rich middle-eastern minnows Qatar to beat off impressive bids from Australia, the USA, troubled South Korea and jittery Japan. That’s football.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The great World Cup 2018 debate: Give it to the Russians

So where would you like to see the 2018 World Cup? Chilly, big-spending Russia? Financially teetering Spain and Portugal? The lowlands of Holland and Belgium? Or perhaps in England, where the nation is undergoing serious cuts in government spending?

Doesn’t sound too good does it? In Geneva on December 2 – that’s next Thursday - the four competing bids will stand up to be counted by FIFA’s apparently dodgy Executive Council. Me? I’d be bribing those infamous 24 men to vote for Russia. They may just have the roubles to survive a World Cup.

With South Africa’s white elephants still roaming the plains – their 2010 World Cup stadia in places like Nelspruit, Polokwane, Port Elizabeth and even Durban and Cape Town may be too costly to maintain – even booming Brazil are struggling to keep the bean-counters happy as they prepare for 2014.

And now we find the European superpowers lining up to carry the burden of FIFA’s “greatest show on earth”... right in the middle of the biggest financial downturn those bonus-loving bankers can throw at us. Everyone knows FIFA’s coffers are the only ones likely to bulge, but national pride means the battle goes on.

Spain and Portugal, both with teetering economies, insist they’ve already lined up eight of those 22 votes. In the words of bid spokesman Miguel Angel Lopez: “All the fish is sold.” Strange expression to us that, when you consider the 2018 Iberian bid was only cleared of colluding with Qatar 2022 earlier this month.

England? They haven’t hosted the World Cup since 1966, and Prime Minister David Cameron is being lined up to help end that 52-year hiatus. The glib Conservative leader will – like the other five national leaders - spend three days in Zurich next week, leading what he calls the “persuasion offensive”.

Already, Cameron has hosted a reception for FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who pronounced himself happy with England’s preparations. Just as Tony Blair’s presence in Singapore helped London defeat Paris and Madrid to the 2012 Olympics, so Cameron – with David Beckham and Prince William also in his armoury - is seen as the big gun to blow his European rivals out of the water.

Holland and Belgium, with their 80,000-capacity World Cup final stadium due to be built in Rotterdam, are the cute outsiders. They offer a sustainable, green bid which will involve far less travel for fans than a trip to Russia, where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is apparently determined to triumph.

And all of next Thursday’s shenanigans will be played out to the backdrop of corruption. When the executive vote on 2018 and 2022 they will do so knowing Nigeria's Amos Adamu and Oceania's Reynald Temarii have already been suspended for breaching the ethics code after a series of Sunday Times revelations a month ago.

On Monday night in England, the BBC will screen the long-awaited Panorama investigation into the bid process with FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, a man of some experience in these situations, insisting: "I’m totally dismissive of the Panorama programme. I believe it might have a negative affect on the England bid. I leave here on Sunday to go to vote on the bid. I haven't yet made up my mind how I'm voting.

"I don't want to dignify the foolishness by the BBC and what they want to show. If the BBC want to show anything, they could show it, what more could the BBC say about Jack Warner, come on, and while the BBC is doing its nonsense, I am doing my work, so I'm not worried about that."

Assuming there are no further suspensions after the BBC expose – I’m told they’re little more than a rehash of the Sunday Times allegations - just 22 votes will be cast on Thursday, though Oceania could replace Temarii before the ballot if he waives his right to appeal against his one-year suspension and fine.

That 23rd vote looks likely to go to England, and they certainly have the best available stadia and infrastructure for a low-cost World Cup.

In truth, Russia may be the boldest bid – and the best for the game globally. Vitaly Mutko, the Russian Sports minister leading their campaign, admits: "England could host the World Cup tomorrow. But we have a vision and FIFA has a philosophy that is about trying to grow in new parts of the world. Football is already very popular in England. We hope that football can be as popular in Russia as it is in England.”

To be honest, Vitaly mate, you’re welcome to it.


ENGLAND: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They’ve got the iconic stadiums the world sees in the Premier League on the telly every week, they’ve got the new Wembley. And yes, they’ve got the infrastructure when the train drivers aren’t on strike, and there are plenty of hotels in all the major cities.

To me, the big thing is that England – with London set to host the 2012 Olympics - boasts huge communities of ex-pats from over 200 nations which ensures interest even in the tiny games like, say Slovenia versus Iran or Greece against Turkey, God forbid. But can the country afford the upgrades in cities like Bristol, Milton Keynes and Plymouth?

Bid cities: London, Manchester, Newcastle, Sunderland, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Plymouth, Sheffield.

Best world cup performance: Winners, 1966.

Odds: 11/10

Verdict: The obvious low-cost choice, but politics – and economics - may get in the way.

RUSSIA: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has already secured the Winter Olympics for Sochi in 2014 and he’s promising to spend £6bn on the World Cup if they get it.

FIFA are worried about transport around this vast country and there may be a rush to get ready in time with most of the stadia needing work... but somehow I reckon they’ll get it. With Putin in charge, spending all that cash shouldn’t be a problem.

Bid cities: St Petersburg, Moscow, Sochi, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Rostov-on-Don, Krasnodar, Yaroslavi, Nizhny Novogorod, Kazan, Saransk, Samara and Volvograd.

Best world cup performance: Group stage, 1994 and 2002.

Odds: 5/6

Verdict: Sepp Blatter would love to take the World Cup to Russia. If Putin makes the right noises, they’ll win the bid.

SPAIN & PORTUGAL: The Iberian bid is dominated by Spain, the Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup winners. They hosted Euro 1964 and the 1982 World Cup, while Portugal was home to Euro 2004.

Spain offer Barcelona’s impressive Nou Camp and Real Madrid Bernebeu but Portugal will probably only use Porto and Lisbon. Either way, there’s money to be spent and these two nations are both staggering under the economic collapse.

Bid cities: Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, Lisbon, Sevilla, Bilbao, Porto, Zaragoza, Badajoz, Santander, Malaga, A Coruna, Donostia-San Sebastien, Valladolid, Vigo, Murcia, Alicante, Gijon.

Best world cup performance: Spain, winners 2010/ Portugal, third place 1966.

Odds: 4/1

Verdict: Despite the economic problems, they claim eight votes already, and who can argue against Madrid and Barcelona being footballing hotbeds?

BELGIUM & NETHERLANDS: The Benelux pair hosted Euro 2000 with some aplomb, now they’re claiming to have the greener, healthier, sustainable bid.

Certainly, it will be easier to get about than Russia given the size of the lowland nations but they don’t have an 80,000 capacity stadium to host the final. Rotterdam city council promised to do that in March 2009 but it’s not there yet.

Bid cities: Amsterdam, Enschede, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Antwerp, Genk, Liege, Charleroi, Brussels, Ghent.

Best world cup performance: Fourth Place, 1986/ Runners up 1974, 1978, 2010.

Odds: 33/1

Verdict: Nobody cares about green any more. Can’t compete with the big guns.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

White elephants and wasted millions: a warning to World Cup wannabes

You’d expect problems with pachyderms in South Africa, where elephants roam the game reserves in tree-chomping hordes. But since the World Cup, white elephants are the problem. A small herd of them. Magnificent football stadiums lying empty and unused. And that’s just one aspect of the expensive legacy left by hosting the greatest footballing show on earth.

The 2010 World Cup hasn’t left South Africans trumpeting about positive fall-out and that strange parping noise isn’t the matey call of the vuvuzela... it’s the nervous response of the economists as the European superpowers line up for right to host the 2018 World Cup in Zurich on December 2.

Russia, Spain, Holland/Belgium, Portugal/Spain and England, be afraid, be very afraid. South Africa went into this with their eyes open, determined to make a success of hosting the World Cup. They did. But boy, they’ve paid for it.

What was it British Prime Minister David Cameron said the other day? "I’m spending much more time on the World Cup than on the G20.” Perhaps he should rethink. And bribe those notoriously corruptible 24 FIFA executive committee members to give the tournament to Russia.

Way back in 2004, when FIFA awarded South Africa host status for 2010, consultants Grant Thornton suggested the Rainbow Nation would have to spend $300m on stadiums and infrastructure, while they predicted a gross domestic product boost of $2.9bn.

What? Soccer City, the largest white elephant of them all (that's me above, pictured at the stadium just after completion), cost more than $300m alone as the great kalabash emerged amid the mine dumps south west of Johannesburg. In the end, despite record profits for FIFA, South Africa spent $4bn to build and rebuild their ten stadia and upgrade the infrastructure for what was, ultimately, a peaceful but mediocre World Cup.

Positive South Africans point to the upsurge in tourism, national pride, the lack of predicted bloodbaths and a brief downturn in crime. But most, in the post-World Cup depression, accept their country may have been fooled in to thinking a month under the global spotlight would right the nation’s many ills. It hasn’t.

Those ten sparkling stadiums lie largely unused. They’re using Cape Town’s Green Point for next week’s Mandela Challenge which sees South Africa take on the USA. Both SAFA (R5m) and the local municipality (R2m) are forking out millions to allow the game to go ahead.

In Polokwane, the new Peter Mokabe stadium, capacity 45,000, sits unused next to erm, the old Peter Mokabe stadium, capacity 20,000, which was quite suitable for South Africa’s northernmost city. In rural Nelspruit, the Mbombela Stadium has no suitors. Neither city has a side in the local Premier League.

In Johannesburg, Soccer City is desperately trying to attract big rugby showdowns while the arched Moses Mabhida in Durban hopes to host international cricket fixtures to help pay the costs of upkeep.

The coastal city will also bid for the 2020 Olympics in a desperate effort to make their magnificent 65,000-capacity stadium reusable, given its position right over the road from the 55,000-capacity Kings Park rugby stadium.

Horatio Motjuwadi, editor of The Sowetan newspaper, is as worried as anybody by the annual R2m cost of maintaining each World Cup stadium. He said: “I don’t know how they’re going to keep going. You need a mathematician to figure out how they are going to move forward and pay for them after the World Cup.”

Eddie Cottle, World Cup spokesman for lobby group Labour Research Service, says: "FIFA made the most money ever of any country hosting the World Cup. So there is a big question being asked right now in South Africa: Where is the money going and who will really benefit from the World Cup? As we can see it, the people who have made the most out of the World Cup are the construction companies, FIFA and its partners."

The original plan foresaw some 400,000 visitors to the soccer tournament, spending around R15bn (1.5bn euros) in the country. That revenue was expected to largely offset the infrastructure costs estimated at about 1.7 euros. Ultimately though, South African taxpayers face a bill of more than 3.3bn euros. Roughly the same amount FIFA expects to post as its net earnings from the event – one of the most profitable of all time.

On the positive side, Marc Hershowitz, formerly of the University of Cape Town Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing, argues: “FIFA commissioned a six-wave study of South African residents post World Cup and the findings were glowing. The study showed a marked upswing in national confidence - both local and abroad. And of the 75% of all visitors who toured South Africa for the first time, 83% stated their intention to return and a staggering 94% expressed they would gladly recommend South Africa to friends and family.”

But that simply doesn’t make up for what South Africa spent to host FIFA’s most lucrative World Cup. Remember, South Africa remains a developing country. Unemployment stands at 40 percent. The Gini coefficient of income inequality , has risen from 0.66 in 1993 to 0.70 in 2008.

And who’s up next? Brazil, another land of haves and have nots. In 2014, 12 cities will host World Cup games. Four of these (Manaus, Brasilia, Cuiabá, Natal) haven’t got a club in Brazil’s top three divisions.

And the cost of building the stadiums there? $4bn, with historic stadiums already demolished without public consultation and communities facing forced removal around the grounds. Just like they did in South Africa. Both nations have avoided the worst of the global economic downturn, but neither can afford to throw away money.

Can the Russians? The Dutch and Belgians? Economically wounded Spain and Portugal? Or cut-ravaged England? Hardly.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Take a lesson from Gazza, Gareth. Stick with Spurs and Redknapp

The Gareth Bale phenomenon is nothing new. Great players have emerged overnight before, and once, with similar hype, in the lily-white shirt of Tottering Hotspur.

It was only when I was talking about Paul Gascoigne on Sky News and South Africa’s Metro FM today that it dawned on me. Gazza WAS Bale twenty years ago.

Gascoigne, for the benefit of younger readers, was a phenomenon. A young wizard from Tyneside, snapped up from Newcastle by Terry Venables and turned into a superstar in his early 20s.

At Italia 90 Gazza’s tears and skills captivated a nation, dominated the World Cup. He single-handedly took Spurs to the FA Cup final a year later, before suffering a serious knee injury in the first minute against Nottingham Forest at Wembley.

By then, aged 23, he already decided to leave Venables – a father figure much like Harry Redknapp - and White Hart Lane, beginning a journey that took him to Lazio in Italy and Rangers in Scotland for plenty of pounds. Six years later, his powers had diminished but he still shone at Euro 96 in England, ask any Scottish fan.

Now he’s just entered the Providence Project rehabilition centre in Boscombe, near Bournemouth. It’s his TENTH attempt at rehab. He became newsworthy today because he was due to be sentenced for drink driving in Northallerton, north Yorkshire. The case was adjourned until December 13 because he hadn’t briefed a lawyer. He nearly ended up representing himself. Delay or not, he faces at least 12 weeks in jail if found guilty.

Google the bloke if you’re a youngster. Gascoigne was the best around. But once he’d left the protection of Venables and Spurs, the rot set in. Drinking, burping and farting didn’t endear him to the Italian press, at Rangers he drove his car into Loch Lomond and beat his wife Cheryl, also a media star.

Then we come to self-harming and suicide bids, bulimia and obsessive compulsive disorder, if you believe the Hunter Davies biography “Being Gazza: Tackling My Demons”. It’s all there. Oh, four bottles of whisky a day or twenty pints of extra-strong lager. That’s there too.

A brief stint at non-League Boston as a 38-year-old player didn’t last in 2004 and he never quite took the coaching badges he was due to sit. He was put in charge of lowly Kidderminster a year later, but lasted just 39 days before the players complained he was drunk at training.

Most recently, Garforth Town, in something called the EvoStick Division One, announced he was their new boss. He never took the job. While Diego Maradona, a great player with a similar background, was taking Argentina to South Africa and the World Cup, Gazza was involved in a car crash that left him with a punctured lung.

Since then? Two drink driving offences, an infamous appearance at Raoul Moat’s siege and a further difficulty with cocaine, charges pending. Nothing short of a tragedy for a man of such talent. A man who had so many friends when he was making an incredible £90,000-a-week thirty years ago in Italy.

Look, I’m not saying Gareth Bale will go the same way if he was to leave the protection of Spurs. After his two classic performances against European champions Inter Milan over the past fortnight, he has risen to Gascoigne status as quickly as anybody, though he was playing well on the left last season too.

What worries me is this: Bale will now come under pressure to make the big move. Spurs, though they’re a good side under the astute and entertaining Harry Redknapp, don’t yet qualify as a major club like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea or Manchester United.

Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick both used White Hart Lane as a launch pad for Old Trafford on that basis, just as Gascoigne had done all those years before at a similar age.

Should Bale do the same? If United, Sheikh Mansour’s Manchester City or Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea made a £50m bid in January, will Spurs have any choice?

Well, yes, they will. It’s time for Spurs to be a big club. To believe in the Redknapp phenomenon which has seen the club climb from Juande Ramos’s rock-bottom in the Premier League to today’s Eurocentric peak.

To his credit, ‘Arry has come out today and said from the golf course: “We don’t want to sell him and we’re looking to build a team at Tottenham. We’re a club that’s going places – we’ve got a new training ground coming, change of stadium, the whole thing is going forward.

“They wouldn’t buy Gareth for £30m, that’s for sure. If he had a value, if we wanted to sell him, his value would be way in excess of that sort of figure. Our chairman Daniel Levy has said on many occasions we’re not looking to sell our best players now.”

Bale himself said: “I don’t take much notice of the hype. I try not to look at newspapers and just keep my feet on the floor. I'm just happy at Tottenham now; I just want to keep playing my football there and keep progressing as a player.''

But as former Spurs man Jason Cundy has been saying all afternoon on TalkSport radio: “Every player has a price. And Bale has the right to demand what he’s worth, just like Wayne Rooney.”

Sadly, he’s right. Bale will now be advised to demand a new contract – despite signing a five-year deal in the summer – before the big bids start landing in January. The last deal took him from £25,000-a-week to around £55,000. But that won’t be enough now. Not after what we’ve seen against Inter.

The big agents, the Pini Zahavis and Paul Stretfords of this world, have made sure of that. And when a player is “doing a Gazza” he can command any fee, any wage. The temptations will be enormous. Back in October, Bale’s agent Peppino Tirri was already saying he would consider a move to Italy’s Serie A. You can just imagine him rubbing his hands now.

My advice? Despite that fact I support Arsenal, stick with Spurs, Gareth. You’re only 21, Redknapp is building something special. I bet Paul Gascoigne wishes he’d never left El Tel and Tottenham in 1990.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Tottering Hotspur Force Champions Inter Milan To Bale Out. An incredible night at White Hart Pain

And there it is. In black and white. Dark blue and white. Tottenham 3, Inter Milan 1. Proof, if ever it was required, that Tottering Hotspur are now a powerhouse in world football.

The European champions torn apart. Gareth Bale establishing himself as Europe’s form player with two magnificent assists down the left to follow his hat-trick in the 4-3 defeat at the San Siro a fortnight ago.

Bloody incredible. Why spend all that money and angst on Wayne Rooney when glorious Gareth is about? The only problem. The boy was born in Cardiff not London.

On Twitter, lifelong Arsenal fans were kicking themselves. Spurs have never been a particularly likeable side – I remember Steve Stammers of the Evening Standard saying the “Yids” were complaining on the terraces even during the double-winning year of 1961 – but everywhere you looked last night, praise was pouring forth.

Younes Kaboul held together the struggling back four, despite a magnificent goal from Samuel Eto’o, the master Barcelona stupidly swapped for Zlatan Ibrahimovich and a few million.

Carlo Cudicini, in for the suspended Heurhelho Gomes, pulled off a stunning save from Wesley Sneijder’s free-kick just before half-time.

At 1-0, scorer Rafael van der Vaart was taken off injured during half-time. But Spurs remained unruffled. Aaron Lennon stormed down the right. Tom Huddlestone sprayed the ball about in the centre of midfield. Even William Gallas got his old legs going. Benoit Assou-Ekotto did his bit at full-back behind Bale, though Scotsman Alan Hutton looked to be the weakest link.

It was a night to savour. Tottenham's finest in fifty years in this, their first season back in Europe. And even a died-in-the-wool Gooner has to confess: The White Hart Pain fans were magnificent too.

How has this happened? How has the team we all love to hate reached such a peak? It’s down to HR. That’s Harry Redknapp, not Human Resources.

He took over when Juande Ramos had taken Spurs to rock-bottom. And they haven’t looked back. In two short years they have gone from strength to strength – in style. Portsmouth fans may point out that his departure led to their club's demise, but forget all that. Redknapp is a genius. And an entertaining, informative, comedic genius at that. Ask anybody who has attended his press conferences. Laugh-a-minute. But to-the-point.

Signings like Kaboul, Cudicini, Jermain Defoe,Crouch, Van der Vaart... often controversial, often repeat signings to and fro from Portsmouth. But they’ve gelled. None of your Manchester City bickering.

And ‘Arry’s master-stroke? Switching Bale from left-back to left midfield. He terrorised the great Brazilian Maicon last night. After Modric made the first for Van der Vaart, Bale created two on a plate for Crouch and finally sub Roman Pavlyuchenko, just when it mattered.

Rarely has a player evoked such emotions. He is powerfully built, he knocks surrendering Italians into touch... and his pace is quite breathtaking. No need for Ronaldoesque step-over, just surge through and BOOM!

Redknapp said after the game: "Bale? Amazing, amazing. The dope testers are here. They should test him. The boys can run and run. It’s everything really. Gareth’s got great ability, he can run all day. He can cross with that left foot, shoot, dribble, head. He’s got everything.

“And you couldn’t meet a nicer boy than Gareth. He’s just a lovely boy. That was a fantastic night’s football, from first to last. We worked ‘em. Modric has come back to top form but it was an amazing performance from every single one of them. The whole team."

Spurs now top Group A (aka the Group of Death) ahead of Inter Milan on goal difference. Both have seven points. FC Twente have five. Manchester United's 3-1 win went almost unnoticed at Bursaspor, as did Rangers devastating defeat in Valencia. Scuffles after Barcelona's 1-1 draw in Copenhagen matter not a jot.

This night belonged to Gareth, Harry and Tottenham. As Paul Walsh, the former Spurs and Liverpool striker said: “Bale has mullered Maicon twice in two games. Fantastic.”

And all this without Defoe, Michael Dawson, Gomes, Ledley King. Harry, you are the master.

The hunt for Steven Pienaar is now officially ON. And it costs NOTHING.

The hunt for Steven Pienaar is now officially ON. South Africa’s leading Premier League star appears to have finally slammed the door on Everton – and is now expected to leave Goodison Park for free in June.

Pienaar himself has said little over his refusal to sign a new contract at Goodison Park, but Phil Neville has had his say – and the Everton captain rarely speaks to us journalists without a strong need to influence public thinking.

Phil – brother of Manchester United’s Gary - said: "The club wants Steven to stay here, but there is not much else we can say. It would be a massive blow to lose him.

"He is such an influential character. But it happened to Joleon Lescott a few years ago and we did not want him to move. It has happened to several other big players.

"You can say to Steven every minute of every day that we do not want him to leave but at the end of the day it is his decision.

"He's from South Africa, he's played in Ajax, then Dortmund now he's been to Everton and had the happiest days of his career I think.

“He is probably weighing up his options now."

The suggestion is Pienaar has already been offered around £65,000-a-week but turned it down last summer before a disappointing World Cup on home soil. That would have taken the 28-year-old from modest Westbury in Johannesburg up among Everton’s top earners.

But it remains a long way short of the figure of £220,000-a-week being bandied around in the debate over United’s Wayne Rooney and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. And, unlike Pienaar, neither of those two over-paid stars have behaved impeccably in recent weeks.

Rooney, currently “injured” after prostitution allegations, has spent a week relaxing (and not limping despite his bad ankle) in Dubai while Toure nearly came to blows with City team-mate James Milner and drove home at half-time after being substituted in the recent home defeat against Arsenal.

Pienaar, who started his career at Ajax Amsterdam before moving to Borussia Dortmund, can now sign a pre-contract agreement with a foreign club in January – or he can wait to move FREE to a rival Premier League club at the end of the season. A frustrated David Moyes signed him in 2008 for £2m.

Injury and the debate over his future have impacted on Pienaar’s form this season but he remains one of the Premier League’s top midfielders. After the much-needed 1-0 win over Stoke, Neville insisted: “To be fair to Steven he's got that hanging over him, but he keeps playing well for us.”

Expect an approach from Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp, who has already expressed his interest and has already signed compatriot Bongani Khumalo, as well as former club Dortmund, Manchester United and Chelsea . Former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, now at Inter Milan, is also a known admirer.

Pienaar chose to talk about racism rather than the race for his signature. An ambassador for the anti-racism campaign Kick It Out, he told the Liverpool Echo: “It happened to me when I played in Germany and Holland. The away fans would shout racist abuse but I used it as motivation to do well against the teams.

“I was determined not to let it get to me because if I had have done then they would have won.

“Kick It Out carries a very important message. The fight against racism is one that the game is winning but we must continue to fight.”

In a further bid to deflect attention away from his future, he added: “Everton has the best away support in the Premier League. When I first arrived I was amazed at how many fans we would take to the away games and that gives you confidence even before the game starts.

“I’ve played for the club all over Europe and the following we have had has been unbelievable. At Goodison as well, when the fans are right behind us and the stadium is bouncing, it really can help players raise their game.”