South Africa’s midfield maestro Steven Pienaar, who is in charge of breathing life into their engine room at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, is probably enjoying the best form of his career at the moment.
And on the eve of what is undoubtedly his most important international fixture, when South Africa meet Mexico in the opening act of South Africa 2010 at Soccer City, Pienaar says he is determined to hit new heights as a player and with Bafana Bafana. “To be honest, I’m not at my best yet," he told FIFA.com. "Yes I’m playing well, but I think I can get better. But now it’s not about me, but rather about the country. We have a big game against Mexico, that is all that is on my mind now. Our dreams have to come true."
Pienaar knows that for South Africa to stand a good chance of overcoming the Mexican wave, he will have to be on top of his game and in inspirational form. But with a modest tone, he says that task will be performed not by one soldier, but through a collective effort from "my other brothers".
I don’t play for my country for personal glory, I play to help the team. My aim is to make the team better. But I must say, it’s a special moment for me.
It’s perhaps a curious choice of words, sounding like they may have come from coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who has been working hard to form a spirit of comradeship in this team. Parreira has given his players stern instructions: they need to make the country proud at all cost. And as Pienaar and his team-mates make the 30-minute journey from their team hotel in Sandton to Soccer City in Nasrec, Pienaar says that will be the message that will reverberate in their ears. "We think about it. We think about it a lot," he said. "We have been waiting for this game."
Pienaar’s remarkable rise provides a compelling story. He was born in the poverty-stricken streets of Westbury near Johannesburg. A talented but raw youngster who made his debut as a 19-year-old boy for South Africa, 'Stevie P' or 'Schillo', as he is fondly referred to in South Africa, has now graduated to the elites, joining the esteemed list of South African players who have achieved the half-century milestone. Pienaar earned his 50th cap in South Africa’s 1-0 victory against Denmark at Super Stadium last Saturday.
"Wow, 50 caps? That’s great, absolutely great," he said. "To be honest, I wasn’t really counting. I don’t play for my country for personal glory, I play to help the team. My aim is to make the team better. But I must say, it’s a special moment for me. As a youngster, I had a dream of representing my country and I achieved that dream. That was the biggest honour. I cannot say I have achieved anything special though because we have guys like Aaron [Mokoena] who deserves more applause, he has played more than 100 games for this country and no-one else has done that."
Discovered at South Africa’s School of Excellence, Pienaar made his name at Ajax Cape Town, and it didn’t take long for him to earn a contract in Europe with Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam. There, he sharpened his game and adjusted to European standards. Before, he was flashy, a dribbler, a skilful maestro who at times took one too many touches. "I learned the art of being simple. I realised that sometimes I had a tendency to do too much while I had the ball," he admitted recently.
His club career took a detour when he joined German side, Borussia Dortmund, and no matter how hard he laboured, his game never seemed to take off in the Bundesliga. A loan move to Everton gave him a lifeline to rediscover himself. But more importantly, he used this time to reinvent his game and establish himself again. He now says he is in love with England and, by own his admission, is enjoying the game more than ever. Back in his country, his club career is watched closely, but the 28-year-old is totally focused on Bafana now. "To see the reaction from people is amazing. But as I always say, for me, to play for my country is one of the greatest honours," he says with a grin.