Speaking to KickOff.com at the Castrol Index event in Sandton, the Frenchman had nothing but praise for ‘Schillo’, who will be carrying the nation’s hopes going into the 2010 World Cup.
“I believe that he has grown this year,” Wenger says of Pienaar, who was voted Everton’s Player of the Season. “He was usually a very busy player where the final ball was missing a little bit, but this year he has gained in personality, and he has kept his work-rate, so he has been much more efficient.
“I believe what also played a big role in his growth was that [Mikel] Arteta was not there for a while, and that he had to take the responsibility of being the playmaker of the team. In fairness, he was one of the best players in England this year,” Wenger tells KickOff.com.
Asked whether Pienaar, whose future is still the subject of much discussion, would get into the Gunners team, Wenger responded: “He would get into the Arsenal team, yes. I always had an eye on him since he was at Ajax.”
KickOff.com also quizzed Wenger about Bafana rightback Anele Ngongca, who went to Highbury for trials three years ago and was told by the Frenchman that he would be better suited as a fullback than a midfielder.
“I remember him, yes. I believe it is important in a career that you find your position. In midfield, when you don’t see, it’s difficult. When you play fullback you are aggressive and have good qualities, and you also have the advantage of seeing the entire game in front of you,” he says of the advice he gave Ngongca.
Wenger was also very impressed by the enthusiasm of the South African supporters, and believes Bafana could spring a surprise or two at the tournament.
“I got a very good impression on my way to the hotel. Everyone is happy and is showing great enthusiasm,” he says.
“The home support will be vital for South Africa. It could, of course, be an advantage or a disadvantage. Advantage because of the incredible support, but disadvantage because of the pressure that it brings. How they handle the pressure will be key, but they have a very experienced manager who will keep them in a realistic mood.”
Wenger admits he was worried about the hosts’ poor run of form a few months ago.
“I was worried about South Africa until recently, but they seemed to have found form now. They look a very well organized side, but maybe just miss those stand-out players. The first game will be very important for them – if they can get through the first round, they could surprise.”
* For more on the Castrol Index, visit Castrol Football