Cape Town - Former Bafana defender Matthew Booth hailed newly retired
ex-team-mate Steven Pienaar as the best South African export since the
class of '96.
Pienaar, 35, announced on Wednesday that he was hanging up his boots
after an illustrious career, which saw him represent Ajax Cape Town,
Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur,
Sunderland and Bidvest Wits.Booth, who played alongside Pienaar in the South African national
team, reacted with disappointment to the news that his career was over.
"First of all, it was very sad to hear," Booth told KickOff.
"But I think as an attacking midfielder, to retire at 35, I think he has
done very well for himself, especially considering the amount of time
that he spent in England and in Europe. And he has definitely been the
best export since the Class of '96, you know."
The "class of '96" refers to the Bafana Bafana side which won the Africa Cup of Nations on its first attempt after apartheid.
According to Booth, Pienaar's success was partially shaped by the foundational phases of his career in South Africa.
"I think he comes from a very talent-filled area in Westbury.
Certainly, it has helped his hunger and drive to make a success of
himself. And I think he had a very good schooling at the School of
Excellence and then also at Ajax Cape Town, so he basically had a very
good foundation. Over the years, very well grounded youngsters have come
out of the Ajax system. That certainly helped him," he said.
On his experience of Pienaar as a team-mate, Booth said: "He was
always very cool and calm. Off the field, I have never seen him angry.
He was always very relaxed and very good to get on with. He got on well
with all the team-mates and all the guys from different backgrounds
received him well.
"Creative younger players spent lot of time
with him and learned a lot from him. His legacy has continued because of
Pienaar endured a difficult stint at Wits after returning to the PSL
for the 2017/18 season. Halfway through the campaign and through his
one-year contract, he cut his stay at the club short. 'Schillo', as he
is affectionately known, revealed after retiring that he did not always
see eye-to-eye with Clever Boys coach Gavin Hunt.Booth explained that returning from Europe to play in South African club football is no small task.
"As for his short stay at Wits: I think players coming back from
Europe towards the end of their careers perhaps underestimate or forget
how quick the game is here in South Africa, as it is played 100 miles an
hour sometimes. And Steven, I think, was a player who excelled more in
tactical-based leagues where perhaps you were afforded a little more
space, so perhaps that's one of the reasons.
"I think it's really unfortunate because I was looking forward to see
him playing on a regular basis for another one or two years, you know.
But also you don't want people to remember you for your last poor
seasons in South Africa. You want them to remember you more on the 18
years of success in Europe, you know. So it's always a tough one and I
had to take my hat off for him for deciding to retire because the
temptation to carry on must have been very great."