South Africa: Why Steven Pienaar Should Play at the African Cup of Nations

Matt CheethamCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2012

PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - NOVEMBER 12: Steven Pienaar of Bafana Bafana reads out a message during the Nelson Mandela Challenge match between South Africa and Ivory Coast at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

After retiring from international football and making himself unavailable for the impending African Cup of Nations, according to the Sunday Express, Steven Pienaar is now considering reversing his decision.

Regardless of the accuracy of that piece and the instant dismissal of approval from most Everton fans, this is a scenario Pienaar should certainly consider carefully, both for himself and his nation.

The Toffees midfielder has been Bafana Bafana's leading man since making his debut back in 2002.

After 10 years of loyal service, during which he's amassed 60 caps and appeared in two World Cups, this final tournament—on home turf—would be a fitting send off for his continual contributions.

From a personal point of view, there's considerably more chance of actual success.

South Africa are still ranked as one of the tournament's outsiders, but playing at home, roared on by a partisan crowd—and, of course, a few thousand vuvuzelas—there's far more possibility of causing an upset.

Additionally, several top teams have missed out on qualification. Heavyweights; Eygpt, Senegal and Cameroon won't be making the trip and just two winners from the past eight tournaments are due to attend.

Starring in a few hard-fought wins would be the perfect way for Pienaar to sign off for his nation and enthuse a new batch of players. He could genuinely leave on a considerable high. 

It's also worth noting that Pienaar would be travelling far less than during a typical African Cup of Nations.

South African authorities have reduced the number of venues at this tournament, to prevent teams from hopping around venues—something sure to be appreciated by European clubs.

Whilst traipsing off to Africa for two months won't be a notion Evertonians will appreciate, especially given their impressive start to the season, at least the traveling would stop once the players arrive.

A decade leading a struggling side has undoubtedly taken its toll on Pienaar.

As the poster boy, he has been expected to put in Man of the Match displays every game, despite those around him being far less competent at highlighting his artistry.

Having re-signed for Everton in the summer, for over £4 million, he will feel he owes his club, yet just his presence around Bafana Bafana over the coming weeks would prove priceless in shaping the nation's latest generation—especially at a home tournament.

There's no doubt his country need him and there have already been those labelling Pienaar as selfish and egotistical for his recent choices. Whilst those words are extreme, the views that this one last commitment for all the early help his country gave him does at least carry substance.

As much as he's done over the past decade, turning his back on his nation here, under these circumstances, will irreparably tarnish his reputation.

Just another month of service and it could all end so differently, with Pienaar celebrated as he should be.

Perhaps the real issue here is simply timing, as it always seems to have been with this tournament.

Were the festivities taking place over the summer, or squeezed between a Premier League winter break, there would be far less pressure from clubs and supporters, and Pienaar would probably be making the trip.

As it is, this seems a sad end for one of South Africa's most successful exports.