Pienaar – Why Everton will finish higher than you think
Early in July 2012, David Moyes was questioned on his summer transfer targets and he announced ‘My next job in the coming weeks is to get Steven Pienaar here as well’ and he brought him back home later that month for £4.5 million on a 4 year deal. Rewind back to January and Moyes had pulled off a masterstroke by bringing in the South African international, who has amassed 46 caps for his country, back to Goodison Park for a 3rd spell despite the fact that it was only on loan. This signing arguably helped to boost his faltering side, who languishing in 11th position at the half way stage, to an incredible 7th position in May looking down at their Merseyside rivals Liverpool, who they had been looking 5 places up at in January. Pienaar finished the season with Best Minutes per Chance Created ratio (38 minutes) and Best Minutes per Assist ratio (206 minutes) in the whole squad despite only joining in January. Everton are renowned for playing poor in the first half of the season but storming back up the table post January and duly repeated this feat last season. This was largely due to losing their chief creator in midfield Mikel Arteta to Arsenal in the last hours of the transfer deadline day with no time to reinvest. This coupled with the impotency shown upfront by Tim Cahill, Apostolos Vellios, Victor Anichebe and Denis Stracqualursi led to serious questions being asked of David Moyes after another home defeat against Bolton on January 4th. Pienaar, the tricky winger who is just as comfortable on the opposite side or centrally, knew he had to step up and be counted.
David Moyes, manager of Everton for the last 10 years, went out in the January transfer window and pleased the Evertonians by bringing back, fan favourite, Steven Pienaar to finally fill the creative hole missing from Arteta’s late move. Moyes rescued Pienaar from his torrid year at Tottenham where he made just 17 appearances and scored only 1 goal. Harry Redknapp said of Pienaar “He’s a good player, a very very good player. It’s just I had Gareth Bale playing on the left-hand side”. Numerous fans went on to scrutinize David Moyes with the thought of a ‘30 year old White Hart Lane flop’ coming back to Everton but this is far from true and I will touch on this later on. The impact diminutive Pienaar had on Everton’s renaissance after January is clear to see – in the second half of the season where he played in 14/19 games they scored 29 goals in comparison to the first half of the season where they only scored 20 goals. He made the most key passes in the team with 2.3 per match. Another stat highlighting his huge contribution to the side is that in the first half of the season Everton failed to score in 6 games where as in the second half of the season in this was only the case 3 times.
In his first home game at Goodison Park, Steven Pienaar put in a man of the match performance, as Everton’s main attacking outlet, in the 2-0 win over Chelsea as he scored a well taken opener in the 5th minute and made several marauding runs which had the beating of the Chelsea defence, most notably Jose Bosingwa, all afternoon. When looking at games Pienaar influenced heavily, it is hard not to remember the 4-0 home victories against Sunderland and Fulham of which he chipped in 1 goal and 3 assists. Sandwiched in between those fixtures was the memorable 4-4 draw at Old Trafford against a defensively frail Manchester United side which blew the Premier League title race wide open. Blessed with great dribbling ability in tight areas and a superb touch, Pienaar often chooses to cut in with the ball or drift inwards once Leighton Baines overlaps and crosses, consequently finding himself in smart positions that of a second striker, and finishing with aplomb such as his late equaliser against Manchester United. His relationship with Nikica Jelavic, the prolific January signing from Rangers, was the key to the Blues’ remarkable second half of the season as the two players solved Everton’s attacking deficiencies. In the second half of the season they won 9 matches and lost only 3 in contrast to the first half of the season were they won 7 matches and lost 9. Pienaar finished the campaign with 4 goals and the highest number of assists in the squad with 6 in only 14 starts and commented at the end of his loan spell that he would love to stay.
A False Start
In January 2011, Everton’s 09/10 ‘Player of the season’ had 6 months left on his contract but decided not to renew it and move on to pastures new. He joined Tottenham for £3 million despite the interest of Chelsea as he felt unconvinced that the West London side were the best venue for him to further his career. But would North London be any better? Harry Redknapp knew Pienaar’s ability to play on both wings and as a centre attacking midfielder, where he operates for South Africa, would be a valuable assets as he could be top class cover for Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale and Rafael Van Der Vaart. But, ousting any one of the attacking trident from the team would be much harder than he possibly thought. The Bafana Bafana captain was plagued with constant groin and knee injuries in his time at Spurs and made 8 league appearances in 10/11 and 2 league appearances in 11/12. Harry Redknapp is renowned for making little use of his whole squad and this was hardly music to the ears of Pienaar, who was especially vying for one of the 2 wing positions occupied by Lennon and Bale. Steven Pienaar was used sporadically in his time at White Hart Lane and consequently left which is similar to other talented attacking players including Niko Kranjcar, Adel Taarabt and Kevin-Prince Boateng who were all given little chance to impress in Harry Redknapp’s time at the club, as he chose against rotating his squad. Letting Pienaar go undeniably came back to haunt Spurs in the second half of last season as his side imploded and fell down to fourth and after Chelsea’s win in Munich subsequently fell out of the Champions League places. People often accredit their end of season collapse with the media’s ongoing affiliation with Harry Redknapp and the vacant England managerial position ; however, I believe it was due to a lack of squad depth once injuries decimated the squad which had prior to that had been infrequently changed. Not one player in the squad, once Pienaar had left on loan to Everton, could cover the right midfield role as effectively as Lennon did and the versatile South African could have. Redknapp resorted to playing Luka Modric out on the right wing but to no avail and positioning Bale there affecting the balance of the side and severely dented the Lilywhites’ title hopes. Pienaar, a master of drawing fouls with his tidy, close control, was not valued highly or made to feel important at Tottenham and his third coming to Everton, also known as the ‘The People’s Club’, was inevitable.
When attacking in Everton colours, Steven Pienaar operates a free role in the final third but is under strict orders from Moyes to track back and help Baines with the defensive duties. His all action, energetic approach led to Everton conceding 4 less goals in the second half of last season. This summer, the braided 5ft 7in star urged the Everton board to avoid selling Baines to Manchester United in hope of burgeoning their effective relationship down the left flank. In Pienaar’s 14 appearances for Everton last season, he clocked up 1236 minutes which was 784 minutes more than his playing time during his whole spell at Spurs. He is very similar in the way he plays to Manchester United attacker Ashley Young as they are both predominantly left wingers but cut in onto their right foot to take a shot or nimbly thread through balls and Pienaar done this well last season with 12 through balls – the most in the squad. However, Young has the tendency to be too predictable as he cuts in way too often and loses the ball. In comparison, Pienaar is proactive and is always keen to instigate Everton’s attacks and his partnership with Baines, who constantly forays down the left flank, is the main creative hub of the side. Although Young is 3 years his junior and featured much more often than Pienaar , the stats speak for themselves : Pienaar has a 7% higher dribble success with 58%, 0.43 assists per game compared to Young’s 0.40, one less assist in the whole season and the same number of chances created despite Pienaar featuring in 11 games less than Young. Pienaar also has more successful dribbles per game (1 – 0.76) and a higher chance conversion and crossing accuracy by an overall 5% than Young. Steven Pienaar is shown to be much more difficult opponent to defend against, ask Bosingwa, and his creativity, short passing and vision shows Ashley Young still has a lot to learn.
Every player has his flaws and Pienaar’s is that he tends to get barged off the ball easily due to his small frame. This leads to him sticking a leg out or committing silly fouls, never with malicious intent, and this was shown often last season as he picked up 6 yellow cards in only 14 games for the Blues, usually when they were a goal behind and games weren’t going their way. However, Pienaar is loved by the Goodison Park faithful due to his hard working, terrier-like pressing on defenders as soon as he loses the ball, an attribute which you might not associate with a player of his ilk.
Despite Everton losing the influential Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell, Moyes has acted shrewdly this summer by bringing in Steven Pienaar, capturing Steven Naismith on a free transfer while completing the signing of the striker Kevin Mirallas for £6 million to bolster their attack. However ,that may not be all their spending complete as they are also in for the combative Charlie Adam to bolster their midfield and reportedly have first option on Adam Johnson if Manchester City are to sell as part of the Rodwell deal. Steven Pienaar will have no problem jumping straight back into the thick of the action as he understands English football and may very well turn out to be one of most cost-effective summer signings regardless of him being 30 years old. Everton are notorious slow starters but hope to eradicate that this season starting with tomorrow night’s intriguing home fixture against Manchester United- one of teams Pienaar is most productive against. Everton, commonly known as the School of Science, have a tricky start to the season with Manchester United (H), Aston Villa (A), West Brom (A), Newcastle (H) and Swansea (A). Though, Everton have a very strong chance of getting points on the table in each of those fixtures and to make a great start nothing like many a season before. If Steven Pienaar can avoid injury and rekindle his fruitful partnership with Nikica Jelavic, Everton could be the dark horses of this Premier League campaign and finish higher than many fans expect.
All stats correct to 19.08.12. (Credit to Who Scored and EPL Index)