Half-Time Orange For Thought; Steven Pienaar, Misunderstood, Mismanaged or Misrepresented?

The Real Steven Pienaar | Heaven Sent Talent
The Real Steven Pienaar | Heaven Sent Talent
The Leader Of The Troops | Steven Pienaar
The Leader Of The Troops | Steven Pienaar


Dissected with the attention to detail of a legendary Celebrity Masterchef 2nd episode outcast, your good mate Uncle Bob serves up his weekly Half-Time Orange For Thought; a mental morsel for the sports fanatic with a healthy appetite for wholesome consumables. We at GSV have reluctantly declared ourselves accountable for any digestion difficulties that may or may not occur. Enjoy!

Every generation needs a king, a figure to turn to for inspiration and leadership in times of darkness; a man to rally behind when the cause is there to be fought for. Within the early 80’s generation of Mzansi diski, players born in the time span between 1980 and 1985, the man who was crowned Prince and widely heralded as the natural successor to king of the previous generation, all-time Bafana Bafana top goal scorer Benni McCarthy, was talented Westbury born attacking midfielder Steven Pienaar. The skilful ball wizard is a product of the School of Excellence where he polished his skills in preparation for the professional ranks, Schillo got his chance to impress at Ajax Cape Town in 1999 after joining the Cape side from the School of Excellence and the creativity laden playmaker showed Mzansi diski lovers the outrageous God given abilities he had at his disposal. His uncanny ability to get the crowd on their feet with fleet footwork and artistic vision coupled with his goals impressed parent club AFC Ajax who signed the ball wizard in January of 2001 while the protégé was just 18 years old.

In a team packed to the rafters with promising starlets from across the globe, Schillo took some time to settle into the new environment and it was a year and a month after his arrival in Amsterdam that he finally made his debut for his new club; quickly going on to establish himself as a fixture in the first team side as they won the Dutch Eredivisie in 2002 and 2004. Having played and developed alongside world-class talents like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, Maxwell and Mido during his 5 year stay in Holland, Schillo would go down as one of the best South African footballers to ever play in Holland behind Steve Mokone and he would go down in history as the most successful one too. The versatile attacking midfielder caught the eye of then Bafana Bafana coach Jomo Sono with his masterful and mature displays in the Ajax team, Schillo earned a call up to the national team in 2002, making his debut in the 2-0 victory over Turkey on May 23rd 2002 while the team was preparing for the Korea/Japan World Cup with a friendly four nations competition in Hong Kong that also included Scotland, many in the football loving nation of South Africa believed that a saviour had arrived in time to save their senior national football team from a decline they dreaded the prospect of enduring.

Bafana Bafana had looked like a team on a gradual decline after having enjoyed early success by winning the 1996 African Cup of Nations and claiming silver and bronze in the subsequent competitions in 1998 and 2000 respectively coupled with competitive showings in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups added to a quarter-final appearance in the 2002 edition of the African Cup of Nations; now South African football seemed to be back on the rise again and a new crop of players needed to be identified and groomed to take Bafana Bafana even further and continue the progression made by the previous generation who had made the nation so proud. In the 10 years that Schillo has been in and out of the national team, Bafana have drastically underachieved and the lack of success has not gone unnoticed in Mzansi football circles; much of the blame for this lack of success and progression has been attributed to Schillo’s strained relationship with the national team.

The sad reality is that Schillo was set apart from his peers as the man who would make the difference for Bafana Bafana; a certified match winner with the confidence and character to lead a talented group of players that included some of the best footballers Mzansi has ever produced, yet this generation is one we failed to rally behind and develop fully and our actions led to them letting us down when we needed them the most. No one man can do everything, yet every man can do something; Schillo may be an outstanding footballer with the ability to “take it to the hole in wining time”, yet his abilities needed other competent players around him that were willing to give their all for the success of Bafana Bafana and Mzansi football as a whole. The failure to blood younger players into the national squad, as a group that has previously played together continuously, has been the Achilles’ heel of Mzansi football for many years now; with Schillo’s generation being a case in point as the talented playmaker was only capped once at u/17 level prior to receiving his first national team cap at 20 in a 2­-0 victory over Turkey.

Now that the members of the early 80’s generation are reaching the twilight of their international careers, we are afforded ample room to assess the achievements and shortcomings of the valiant soldiers that battled on the field of play for Mzansi. When one considers the early 80’s generation, some of the most talented South African footballers are mentioned with players like Jabu Pule, Aaron Mokoena, Teko Modise, Nasief Morris, Elrio van Heerden, Morgan Gould, Kagiso Dikgacoi, Simphiwe Shabalala and Tsepo Masilela to name a few. The talent that has flowed through the PSL in the past 10 years alone should have been more than enough to see Bafana put in much better performances when the players are called up to represent the national squad. Many promising players came into the league surrounded by amazing praises of their talents yet very little of that has translated into success when the players don the green and gold.

Players like Terror Fanteni, Lerato Chabangu, Lance Davids, Bevan Fransman and Brett Evans were hot prospects in Mzansi diski yet the failure to develop these players for integral roles in the Bafana team lead to the progression of our football being severely affected by the lack of quality depth for a nation that loves the beautiful game as such. Only Shuffle, Mbazo and Schillo were part of the Bafana squad that went to the 2002 FIFA World Cup with the players being 21 and 20 years old at the time, Jabu and Mbazo were both 21 while Schillo was the youngest member of the side at 20. The fact that the majority of these players first played football together at senior national team level should be a major cause for concern in South African football circles as the only reasonable conclusion is that our scouting networks and development structures are not competent enough to identify the extremely talented players in the country and allow them the room to develop as a unit with the view of promoting the outstanding protégés into the senior setup at a younger age, thus allowing the players to learn from their senior counterparts whom they will be replacing in the side, allowing for seamless transition and continuity at the highest level of our game.

The reality for Schillo, as the natural leader of the pack, is that he never continuously had a group of players he could rely on to do their jobs in the national team; which has lead to the claims that he plays better for his club sides than he does for Bafana. As a natural born trequartista, Schillo is a player who feeds off instinct, and the atmosphere within our national football team as a whole has not been one conducive to him fully feeling the freedom to do what comes naturally with the added strain leading to the player feeling pressurised to alter his style of play to appease the supporters, much to the detriment of his overall performances. No excuses should be made for our failure to transform one of Africa’s brightest talents into a Bafana Bafana Legend as we watch history repeat itself with other talented players like Thulani Serero and Ayanda Patosi. Steven Pienaar is the King of his generation and Bob’s your Grandmothers second born son, Schillo will go down as one of the greatest talents Mzansi has ever misunderstood, mismanaged and misrepresented.


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