Matthew Booth: Steven Pienaar best SA export since the Class of 1996
Posted: 1 March 2018 Time: 15:01
Former Bafana Bafana defender Matthew Booth reckons Steven Pienaar was the best South African export since the 'Class of 1996'.
Pienaar, 35, on Wednesday called time on a 19-year career that saw him represent big teams like Ajax Amsterdam, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland.
"First of all it was very sad to hear," Booth tells KickOff.com.
"But I think as an attacking midfielder to retire at 35 I think he has done very well for himself, especially considering the amount of time that he spent in England and in Europe. And he has definitely been the best export since the Class of '96 you know."
Booth believes the reason 'Schillo' was so successful in Europe is because of the good development he received in the early stages of his career.
"Well I think he comes from a very talent-filled area in Westbury, certainly it has helped his hunger and drive to make a success of himself. And I think he had a very good schooling at the School of Excellence and then also at Ajax Cape Town. So he basically had a very good foundation. Over the years very well grounded youngsters have come out of the Ajax system, that certainly helped him."
Booth says Pienaar was a great teammate.
"He was always very cool and calm. Off the field I have never seen him angry, he was always very relaxed and very good to get on with. He got on well with all the teammates and all the guys from different backgrounds received him well you know. Creative younger players spent lot of time with him and learned a lot from him, his legacy has continued because of that."
Pienaar returned to South Africa in the off-season, but was released by Bidvest Wits after an unproductive six months with the champions. Booth reckons the pace of the PSL is tough to deal with as a veteran that has been plying their trade overseas.
"As for his short stay at Wits I think players coming back from Europe towards the end of their careers perhaps underestimate or forget how quick the game is here in South Africa, as it is played 100 miles an hour sometimes. And Steven I think was a player who excelled more in tactical-based leagues where perhaps you were afforded a little more space, so perhaps that's one of the reasons.
"I think it's really unfortunate because I was looking forward to see him playing on a regular basis for another one or two years you know. But also you don't want people to remember you for your last poor seasons in South Africa. You want them to remember you more on the 18 years of success in Europe, you know. So it's always a tough one and I had to take my hat off for him for deciding to retire because the temptation to carry on must have been very great."
Booth also hopes Pienaar's experience is not lost to South African football.
"Well I hope not, seeing how too many ex-players with 15-20 years' experience get lost or are sitting at home at the moment. So I certainly hope that is not the case. If he is into coaching obviously he needs to get up skilled in that regard and hopefully the authorities will help him in that regard, because we need to get ex-players into administration and coaching.
"I know his heart is in development, especially in Westbury, and that's another thing which people don't give him enough credit for as he spent a lot of time ploughing back money into the community there."