Club vs Country

2013-03-07 14:50
Steven Pienaar (Gallo Images)
In sport, like anything else in life, he who has the wallet dictates the path. He who feeds you will have a huge say in your next step. This is seen when many soccer players, mainly African born, choose their respective European teams over their countries. For most players that show their trade in European leagues, it is often a squabble when they have to take long flights to Africa to represent their countries.

The most common occurrence is during the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) year which clashes with the busy and tough period in the European leagues.  AFCON plays in the first weeks of January every second year for three weeks. For this same reason, African players that are regarded as ‘stars’ in their European teams often face a conundrum of choosing to play for their countries or not. The most common resolve is an increase in the number of retirements from international soccer by concerned players.

Though not proven, it is believed that the European teams more often than not give these players an ultimatum to choose either their countries or retire to have their full attention devoted to them. Truth is these players get paid lots and lots of money by their teams which far outweighs the benefits, financially, that comes with representing the countries in the AFCON competitions.

Steven Pienaar, a South African national soccer team captain was not immune to this quagmire. When he made a move from Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) after a frustrating six months spell, he soon became a star player that the Everton fans have known him to be. It is at Everton where he became a household name in the English Premier League, where he even got the Team’s Player of the Season accolade. Between 2008 and 2011 he had made 104 appearances for Everton and scored 9 goals. It was after a successful 2010/2011 season that a plethora of teams in England and other European teams wanted his signature. At the end it was a well published tussle between Tottenham Hotspur and the free-spending Chelsea. He opted for Spurs at the end.

At this time Steven Pienaar was a hot property and the SA national team coach gave him the captain’s armband. The coach and everybody in the country had their hopes rested on this young man’s shoulders, and a lot was expected of him. Pienaar has an international career that started in 2002 and saw him play for his country on 61 occasions and he scored a measly 3 goals. Lest this be regarded as a less convincing performance, it should be noted that he was not in the squad for his goal scoring acumen, but his creative and tactical ability which has left many a midfielders and defenders confused when he was in possession of a soccer ball.

Conflicts in Libya meant that South Africa was to host the 2013 AFCON showpiece. This was great for the country and a performance better than that of the 2010 World Cup was expected from Bafana Bafana. While preparing his squad for the AFCON tournament, Coach Gordon Igesund was regrettably informed that he had to look for someone to lead his troops as his captain has sent a letter stating his retirement from international soccer. The country and its soccer loving fans were flabbergasted when they woke up to the news that their star player and captain, Steven “Schillo” Pienaar would not form part of the squad.

It was on Tuesday, 2nd of October 2012, when the ice was broken. The soccer-loving fans were divided on their opinions; one school of thought believed that Schillo succumbed to pressure from his Everton coach David Moyes. Steven Pienaar had become an instrumental part of the resurrection of Goodison Park-based team’s performance and his coach couldn’t afford losing him in such crucial time. The other school of thought didn’t waste time to say “Good riddance” to Pienaar as they believed that his performance for the country was below par as compared to when he plays in the English Premier League. Aged 30, Steven Pienaar was at the twilight of his career and doing wonders in the English Premier League; his combination with Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines always caused trouble to whoever played against Everton.

Gordon Igesund tried to calm the situation and insisted that Bafana Bafana was bigger than one individual. It was less than two months before the 2013 AFCON kickoff when Gordon took a flight to England to make Pienaar change his mind. It was too little too late as the Johannesburg-born, former Borussia Dortmund player had his mind made up.

When asked why he was retiring from international soccer he cited the following reason
“It is with regret that I wish to advise you that with immediate effect I'm no longer available for selection to represent South Africa. After having given more than 10 years’ service to the national team I'm now at a stage where physically I'm struggling to balance the demands of playing in England with the number of games required by the national team. I'm proud to have represented and captained my country, for this I sincerely thank you and wish the team all the best in the future.”    
Is this another case of he who pays the biggest pay check controls the movement of the bus, or the flow of air? Or was Pienaar’s retirement justifiable?

We can comment all we like but the truth remains…..
He who has the key to money safe box is the loudest and we should all remember that it was within his right to make that decision whether we are happy with it or not.

Read more on:    mysport24

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