Johannesburg - Steven Pienaar has faith in the future of South African football, but believes the high turnover of national team coaches is of no help to Bafana Bafana’s younger players.
Westbury’s favourite sporting hero is back in the western Joburg suburb for his annual football festival which gives local underprivileged youngsters a chance, as Pienaar puts it, “to be off the streets, to play football, to listen to music and meet people”.
Sitting in a Westbury community hall, dressed in the gear of his sponsor and partner at this event, Puma, there is no sign of age catching up with the 32-year-old Everton midfielder, aside perhaps from a pair of designer spectacles.
Through them Pienaar now views the Bafana Bafana set-up from the outside, having retired from international football in October 2012. Pienaar says he has not once thought of returning to the Bafana set-up, enjoying the opportunity to spend more time with his family in the off-season, instead of being called away on international duty.
“I am quite happy to see my family when I am home. It is one of the reasons why I quit. When the off-season came and you had to go away with the national team, you only had a week to see your family. It (coming out of retirement) has never come back in my mind.”
Pienaar is, however, quite forthright on the subject of the Bafana coaching situation, with Gordon Igesund the latest casualty of a trigger-happy SA Football Association. He saw his own fair share of national team coaches, with eight coming and going in the 10-year stint that he represented his country.
“Sometimes you need stability, but I am not a boss of Safa,” he says.
“You need to get results, so if there are no results, you bring in a new coach. But I think stability is the key. There are young players coming through, but if you keep on changing coaches even those players will lose faith in playing for the national team.”
Pienaar says he has kept an eye on Bafana’s progress since his retirement and is an admirer of some of the younger players in the set up like Thulani Serero, Ayanda Patosi and Andile Jali.
“There are a few good young players coming through. Patosi is doing very well in Belgium and Jali is starting to find his feet,” says Pienaar.
“I think the players coming through now are players from the (2009) Under-20 World Cup, like Serero, (Daylon) Claasen and Jali. If they can all make it with Bafana we will have a good squad.”
Pienaar and Serero are close and speak a lot, with Pienaar often visiting Amsterdam, where Serero has had a fantastic season with Pienaar’s former club, Ajax.
“I speak to him (Serero) every second week. I visit Amsterdam a lot,” says Pienaar.
“I talk to him not only about football, also about personal stuff and he listens quite well – I am happy he has had a season like he has. For him, playing a big part in a title winning side was really good and he deserves everything he got last season.”
The midfielder’s investment in his own community, meanwhile, is also helping to produce some young talent, with Keagan Dolly of Ajax Cape Town and Bafana probably the most prominent recent star to come off the Westbury fields.
Pienaarhas just come off a decent season with Everton, which ended with qualification for the Europa League under new coach Roberto Martinez.
Everton were right in the running for the final Champions League spot for much of the campaign, but a spate of injuries, including one to Pienaar, who spent two months out with a torn meniscus, halted their charge.
“I think it was a good season, despite all my injuries,” said Pienaar.
“In that way it was very unfortunate for me, but the team played really well to qualify for European football. That was our goal before the season and we managed to get it.
“It was unfortunate that when we were pushing for that Champions League spot we lost a few players. I got injured, and I think we had about five guys out, but we got European football and it was a good season.”
Pienaar says Martinez’s philosophy is “totally different” from that of David Moyes, with whom he also enjoyed plenty of success.
“He (Martinez) just wants us to express ourselves and enjoy the game and play it the right way,” says Pienaar.
“And I think with the mentality the players have from Moyes’ time there, the mix was quite good.”
Pienaar admits he was shocked that it did not work out for Moyes at Manchester United.
“I was surprised, because of the kind of person he is and the way he works,” says Pienaar.
“But I think he will bounce back.”
Pienaar has only been watching the World Cup in fits and starts, though he did catch a bit of his favourite side in Brazil, Holland, thumping Spain 5-1 on Friday evening.
As for the African sides, he feels the biggest challenge will come from “the Ivory Coast”.