Steven Pienaar says representing Everton was “something special” and he played his best football in the royal blue jersey.
Former South Africa international winger Pienaar this week brought down the curtain on a distinguished career, which also included stints with powerhouse European pair Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.
But the 35-year-old, who played 231 matches across two spells at Goodison Park, insists he reserved his finest form for the Blues – after being inspired by the “love” of Evertonians following his initial move from Bundesliga club Dortmund in 2007.
“I started at Ajax and that was the development part of my career – but I played my best football for Everton,” Pienaar told evertonfc.com.
“The reception I got when I joined the Club was unbelievable. They made me feel at home from day one and the supporters were great to me.
“When you have that love from the supporters, you feel at home, you are more relaxed and can enjoy your football and try to make the supporters happy.
“That is what I wanted to do. The supporters do not see what you are doing on the training pitch, so in the games you have to show you appreciate the love they have been giving you and make sure you wear the shirt with pride.
“Representing the Blues was something special and I will cherish that for the rest of my life. It was all positive with the Club and I enjoyed it as much as every player who plays for Everton. It was great.”
Pienaar converted his loan into a permanent arrangement towards the end of the 2007/08 campaign, having established himself as one of the most popular members of David Moyes’ increasingly cavalier team.
The wonderfully gifted attacker was part of the Everton side which reached the 2009 FA Cup final and finished fifth in that season's Premier League - the second successive campaign in which the Blues secured a top-five spot. Pienaar was named the Club’s player of the year at the end of the subsequent 2009/10 season, which featured his outrageously skilful chip over Arsenal 'keeper Manuel Almunia amidst a blizzard at the London club's Emirates Stadium.
Pienaar left for Tottenham Hotspur in January 2011 but returned to Everton on loan 12 months later – and remembers “nearly sprinting out of the stadium” when he scored against Chelsea in his first game back at Goodison.
Indeed, Pienaar, who spent a further four years with the Blues after completing a permanent move back from Tottenham in summer 2012, cites that strike in a 2-0 victory over Chelsea as one of his two standout moments playing for Everton.
The other match destined to remain forever ensocnced in the 62-cap player’s memory banks is the dramatic FA Cup fourth round replay victory over Liverpool in 2009, when Dan Gosling’s late, extra-time goal saw off the Reds on a cacophonous Goodison night.
“There are a lot of highlights [from my Everton career],” said Pienaar.
“Winning against Liverpool in the FA Cup, when I saw the supporters and what it meant to them, was a special moment. We scored in extra-time and the supporters were going wild. It was a special moment to see what it meant to the supporters.
“I remember Andy van der Meyde got the ball on the right and clipped it in. There was a ricochet and it bounced for Dan Gosling. He chopped it nicely. It was a good goal – and we went wild.
“And to score in my first game back on loan at Goodison Park against Chelsea... that was amazing. How the supporters were going crazy when I scored, you could see in my celebration the relief and passion I had in my heart. I was so happy.
“I got in front of [Branislav] Ivanovic and volleyed it in with my left foot.
“I almost sprinted out of the stadium, that was how excited I was. It took all the pressure off me and I started enjoying my game again.”
Pienaar finished his Premier League career with Sunderland, before returning to his homeland last summer to link up with reigning South Africa Premier League champions Bidvest Wits.
He swiftly decided, however, that the time was right to hang up his boots, so drawing a line under a career which first brought him to Europe with Ajax as an 18-year-old back in 2001.
“The decision has been playing in my head for a while,” said Pienaar, who acknowledged his lone regret from his time with Everton was not winning silverware with the Club.
“I spoke with my family about what we want to do next and came to my peace with the decision. I knew I would have to close this chapter at some stage and I decided in November it was time to call it a day.
“I was still going to training every day, but I was thinking, ‘I cannot take it anymore’. It was a difficult one but now I have come to peace with it and feel more relaxed.”