If the first match of the 2017-18 season was anything to go by‚ it’s going to be a frantic‚ manic one – and expect Steven Pienaar to play some no small role in it.
The former Everton midfielder and Bafana Bafana captain only played in 36 minutes of what he called a “crazy” debut in Bidvest Wits’ 4-3 MTN8 quarterfinal win against Lamontville Golden Arrows at Bidvest Stadium in Friday night.
Coming on as a substitute for fellow new signing and overseas import returnee Daylon Claasen in the 84th minute‚ Pienaar finished a match tinged with madness‚ then played the 30 minutes of extra time that saw both coaches dismissed to add to a red card to either side already.
As if that were not enough‚ Arrows assistant-coach Mandla Ncikazi was also dismissed‚ before the KZN side’s Siyabonga Dube crowned everything by head-butting substitute Gabadinho Mhango to become the game’s sixth red card casualty.
Wits had to fight back from 2-0 down to end the game‚ then extra time‚ at 2-2. They missed their first two penalties in the shootout‚ which they somehow still won.
It was all so hectic that it might have stolen the limelight somewhat from Pienaar’s cameo‚ and return to South African domestic football after 16 years in Europe.
But what should not go unnoticed was that Pienaar‚ while he might have lost a yard of pace‚ displayed that he retains every bit of his intelligence and trademark craftiness on the ball.
“It was crazy. Especially when you miss the first two penalties‚ and having come from chasing the game by conceding twice in the first 20 minutes‚” Pienaar chuckled afterwards at the nature of his debut.
“But it’s a cup game and the most important thing is to get through it. I’m happy. And I think everyone is happy.”
Pienaar has always been known for his famous work-rate – defensively‚ and as a superb passing link-man. He might not be asked to run quite so much as he used to by Wits coach Gavin Hunt‚ but frankly‚ by Friday night’s display‚ Pienaar won’t need to.
Mostly what he will need to do is be in the right place to take passes‚ and make killer passes.
He showed he can be a general for defending MTN8 and league champions Wits on the field in 2017-18‚ and seemed keenly aware of is leadership role off it too.
“You always have to be positive‚ even in the dressing room – motivate the guys‚” he said.
“Even when it’s difficult‚ like here where after 20 minutes you are chasing the game.
“But‚ you know‚ you just have to keep believing and encouraging the guys. And that’s why I’m here.
“To help the guys from that bench‚ and then also that 10 or 15 minutes I get are also good.”
But by Friday’s first impression‚ Pienaar has a lot more than 15-minute cameos in him to offer Wits this season.