Ex-Everton star Steven Pienaar has spoken about the key to his successful partnership with Leighton Baines and revealed the left-back is the best player he has ever played with.
The pair linked up at Goodison Park from 2007 until 2011, and then from 2012 to 2016 when Pienaar returned from his brief spell at Tottenham Hotspur. In this time, they formed a dynamic partnership down Everton’s left-hand side – former Manchester United full-back Gary Neville even admitted they gave him such a torrid time it was a factor in his retirement from the game.
Indeed, in the 2012/2013 season, the potency of the left-sided combination was highlighted by the fact they created 41 per cent of Everton’s chances.
Speaking to evertonfc.com, the South African international, who last week announced his retirement from football, stressed that hard work on the training ground - as well as the natural understanding he had with Baines - was key to the constant threat they posed.
“Even on the training pitch we would be together and we just enjoyed ourselves, played the way we want to,” said Pienaar, who made 229 appearances for the Blues.
“He had a lot of trust in me, when to give me the ball and when not to, and the other way, too. I think that is why it worked because we trusted each other, the belief was there and we worked for each other. He is also a funny guy, too.
“He was like with Hatem Trablesi from Ajax, we had that relationship like me and Baines - so I would say those two are the best I have played directly with where we link up almost every game.
“For me to make passes I needed someone to move for me and that is what Bainesy did, and I think he made me a more mature player.
“I was more of a serious guy in training. It was all about training because that is where you have to put the work in - but also enjoy yourself and be free because you can make mistakes in training as long as you work properly.”
Pienaar was capped 61 times by his country, and played in two World Cups - first in 2002 and then in 2010 as South Africa hosted the tournament.
A past South African Player of the Year in 2009, the former Bafana Bafana captain speaks highly of the current crop of African players in the Everton squad.
“We all know what Yannick Bolasie can do,” he said “For him to come back is a plus for the team, because of his flair and directness.
“Idrissa Gana Gueye is important, too. If you look at all the clubs they have one of those players. Chelsea have Kante. Tottenham have Dembele, Dier or Wanyama who can play that position - City have Fernandinho.
“For me he is really important because he does the dirty work but is also good on the ball. You need a link between defence and attack and he is that guy.”