Despite being in the last year of his contract and being the only Everton player not to sign a long-term deal in recent weeks, Steven Pienaar will apparently remain at Goodison Park for at least one more season. The club can continue contract talks with Pienaar until January, at which time he will be free to negotiate deals with any club and leave Everton on a free transfer in July.
Everton boss David Moyes appears to be taking a huge gamble by not selling Pienaar. The South African midfielder has attracted interest from multiple clubs this summer, and now would be the cash-strapped club’s last chance to make any money from his sale.
However, Moyes has plenty of reasons to let that transfer cash sit on the table — the biggest being Pienaar’s own words. When Bayern Munich came calling last February, Pienaar told the press he wasn’t really so keen on moving.
“I feel this is my home. The supporters have always been good to me and I always give 100%. I definitely aim to play here for a lot longer – why not? Talk of moving is only rumours and I am definitely enjoying my football here.”
Granted, Pienaar might have changed his mind about the Toffees since then, but with so many of the winger’s teammates — most notably Mikel Arteta and Jack Rodwell — committing to Everton for the long term and trying to convince him to do the same, it’s possible that Moyes is banking on Pienaar remaining loyal to the club and signing a long term deal.
Moyes, however, also has a very pragmatic reason for keeping Pienaar on the books for one more season — he can’t sign his natural replacement until January.
The Toffees and their supporters might have held out hope that Landon Donovan, who had an eye-opening loan stint with Everton last winter, might return to Goodison Park in the summer. A wildly successful World Cup run, however, raised his asking price to more than £10 million, which Everton wasn’t ready to pay.
Even if Everton could have paid that fee, however, Major League Soccer wasn’t ready to let its marquee star go just yet — not before the Los Angeles Galaxy had one more playoff run with its roster intact. The prospect of a star-studded L.A v. New York championship game, which would feature Donovan and league-leading scorer Edson Buddle on one side and Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel and Rafa Marquez on the other, is simply too tantalizing to the marketing staff at MLS for them to allow Donovan to leave before season’s end.
As a result, selling Pienaar now would leave Everton with only Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Leon Osman available as pure wing players for up to four months. If you squint just enough, you could see Arteta or Victor Anichebe playing on the wing, but Arteta is far more effective in a central role, while Anichebe is more striker than winger. That lack of depth is something a club with European aspirations — not to mention that has experience with injury-thinned squads — can’t afford to risk.
This brings up another important reason for Everton to keep Pienaar around — his versatility. Pienaar can play virtually any role in midfield. Last season at home against Manchester City, with Arteta and Tim Cahill unavailable, Moyes plugged Pienaar in central midfield with Marouane Fellaini, and he not only proved extremely effective in possession, but he scored the goal that put Everton ahead. Should injuries impact Everton’s midfield again this autumn, the club would be much better off with Pienaar than without him.
Perhaps the ideal situation for Everton is for them to sell some other squad players before the transfer window closes (both Yakubu and Joseph Yobo are tipped to be sold), use that money to bring Donovan back to Goodison Park, then hope that loyalty wins out and Pienaar will stay. It’s a calculated gamble on Moyes’ part, but it could pay off huge dividends for the club in the long run. Plus, in the short term, it keeps Pienaar away from a club like Tottenham Hotspur, who might be competing with Everton for that all-important 4th-place spot this season. That battle might be worth more to the club and its supporters than any transfer fee.