It’s a journey we all have to traverse, the coming of age from child to teenager to adult.

And along the way, there are so many stormy changes and adaptations to make: individual, physical, mental, social and cultural.

It’s often a confusing, complex process – but with the proper grounding, right fortitude and above all appropriate attitude, the destination of the voyage can be achieved.

I was reminded of the fleeting passage of time, and the growth and maturity we all have to negotiate, at the announcement last week of Steven Pienaar’s retirement from football.

It has certainly been a glorious coming of age for the lad from Westbury – and for me, it evoked a line from that seminal Lewis Carroll novel Alice in Wonderland.

A fantasy tale, with deep allegorical meaning, Alice asks: “Where should I go?”

It’s the existential crisis we all have to wrestle with in a mad, mad world and an all-too perplexing reality.

It’s an issue we all grapple with day after day, and even more so during the angst and uncertainty of the teenage years.

But then the Cheshire Cat replies to Alice: “That depends on where you want to end up.”

Steven Pienaar in action for Ajax Amsterdam as he tackles Robert Pires of Arsenal in 2003. Photo: Reuters

And it’s a reply which reflects on direction and ambition, and focuses on resolve and character.

I first met the teenage Pienaar as an awkward, yet highly talented 17-year-old when he arrived at Ajax Cape Town in 1999.

At the time, I had just recently retired from the game and, after also quitting my job as an English teacher, I was trying to find my way as a football journalist.

I had seen many a good player, I had played with and against many a good footballer.

But the first sight of the teenage Pienaar simply blew me away: the touch, technical skill, composure in possession, feet, vision, passing range and above all, the football brain.

Back then, as a kind of stage whisper, I took to calling Pienaar “the kid who invented football” – that’s how good I thought he was.

Like West Indies great Sir Viv Richards, he always had so much more time; like the ice-man Bjorn Borg, he had that same languid detachment of the exceptional; like Phil Bennett, he had the creative flair and explosive trickery.

Steven Pienaar had two successful spells at Everton. Photo: Reuters

As a kid, though, when interviewing him back then, you could feel his teenage discomfort.

But at the same time, there was never any doubting the determination of purpose and his blinkered commitment to the dream.

In essence, Pienaar’s stance all those years ago to both Alice and the Cheshire Cat would have been: I know where I want to end up.

And, boy, did he get there – Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland.

He traipsed the football fields in Europe with great distinction and certainly did justice to his immense talent.

It wasn’t the best time of his career, but Steven Pienaar graced the Champions League stage for Tottenham against AC Milan. Photo: Reuters

But time tramples everything; blink, and it’s all gone. The passage of time, and the circle of life, has witnessed the teenage Pienaar mature from a reticent teen into a confident, highly successful adult.

From the outside, and having been there for the start, I’ve been able to watch and vicariously thrill in his journey to football stardom.

So, young Pienaar, enjoy the rest, plot the next step carefully and from the depths of my football heart, I say: Thanks for the memories.


Cape Argus