JOHANNESBURG – Cavin Johnson didn’t have any hesitation about Steven Pienaar. He may have been only 12 when Johnson discovered him, but the youth coach knew immediately that the talented youngster from Westbury was destined for greatness.
“Aside from the abundance of skill he had on the football field, Steven was probably one of the only players who showed that he could do things on his own from a young age,” Johnson recalled this week.
“That is what separated him from the rest of the group.”
After discovering Pienaar on a dusty football field in the early 1990s, Johnson, the current head coach of Amazulu FC, offered the talented youngster the opportunity to join the Transnet School of Excellence.
There, he nurtured and developed Pienaar into a professional footballer. “We both come from the same background and we both know what the area is like.
"Not necessarily a poor or gang-infested area, but where you need to help each other to get to the next level. We helped each other.”
Pienaar went on to become a household name across the world after representing some of the biggest clubs in Europe, such as Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur.
Last week, the 35-year-old midfielder announced his retirement from football after an illustrious 18-year career. Johnson, who was Pienaar’s first football coach, was sad to see a legend of the game hang up his boots.
“The time had come for him, and anybody in his position would have done the same. It was going to happen whether we like it or not.
“He turns 36 this month and it was the right time. All the respect goes out to Steven. He had a very good innings.” Johnson spoke to Pienaar on a regular basis throughout his football career.
“We spoke as often as we could, but as the person I am, I always left him on his own so that he could find his feet to make sure he became an adult. But he was able to do that when he was in Cape Town already.”
Aside from his talent on the pitch, Johnson believed it was Pienaar’s development off the field that allowed him to reach the heights that he did during his illustrious career.
“The thing that made Steven stand out from the rest of his peers was that he had a solid development programme.
“A development programme that did not only believe in football, but believed in his social background, charity, and that made him aware of what he has to do and where he has to go if he wanted to become a professional footballer.”
Johnson believed the best period of Pienaar’s career was when he played at Ajax Amsterdam.
“The reason Steven was so good at Everton was because of his spell at Ajax Amsterdam. You just have to look at Steven's critics and the players at Ajax. It was probably the best group he ever played with.”
Asked whether Pienaar would take up coaching now that he was retired, Johnson mused: “That’s not for me to say, but I don’t think he wants to be a football coach”.