The hunt for Steven Pienaar is now officially ON. South Africa’s leading Premier League star appears to have finally slammed the door on Everton – and is now expected to leave Goodison Park for free in June.
Pienaar himself has said little over his refusal to sign a new contract at Goodison Park, but Phil Neville has had his say – and the Everton captain rarely speaks to us journalists without a strong need to influence public thinking.
Phil – brother of Manchester United’s Gary - said: "The club wants Steven to stay here, but there is not much else we can say. It would be a massive blow to lose him.
"He is such an influential character. But it happened to Joleon Lescott a few years ago and we did not want him to move. It has happened to several other big players.
"You can say to Steven every minute of every day that we do not want him to leave but at the end of the day it is his decision.
"He's from South Africa, he's played in Ajax, then Dortmund now he's been to Everton and had the happiest days of his career I think.
“He is probably weighing up his options now."
The suggestion is Pienaar has already been offered around £65,000-a-week but turned it down last summer before a disappointing World Cup on home soil. That would have taken the 28-year-old from modest Westbury in Johannesburg up among Everton’s top earners.
But it remains a long way short of the figure of £220,000-a-week being bandied around in the debate over United’s Wayne Rooney and Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. And, unlike Pienaar, neither of those two over-paid stars have behaved impeccably in recent weeks.
Rooney, currently “injured” after prostitution allegations, has spent a week relaxing (and not limping despite his bad ankle) in Dubai while Toure nearly came to blows with City team-mate James Milner and drove home at half-time after being substituted in the recent home defeat against Arsenal.
Pienaar, who started his career at Ajax Amsterdam before moving to Borussia Dortmund, can now sign a pre-contract agreement with a foreign club in January – or he can wait to move FREE to a rival Premier League club at the end of the season. A frustrated David Moyes signed him in 2008 for £2m.
Injury and the debate over his future have impacted on Pienaar’s form this season but he remains one of the Premier League’s top midfielders. After the much-needed 1-0 win over Stoke, Neville insisted: “To be fair to Steven he's got that hanging over him, but he keeps playing well for us.”
Expect an approach from Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp, who has already expressed his interest and has already signed compatriot Bongani Khumalo, as well as former club Dortmund, Manchester United and Chelsea . Former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, now at Inter Milan, is also a known admirer.
Pienaar chose to talk about racism rather than the race for his signature. An ambassador for the anti-racism campaign Kick It Out, he told the Liverpool Echo: “It happened to me when I played in Germany and Holland. The away fans would shout racist abuse but I used it as motivation to do well against the teams.
“I was determined not to let it get to me because if I had have done then they would have won.
“Kick It Out carries a very important message. The fight against racism is one that the game is winning but we must continue to fight.”
In a further bid to deflect attention away from his future, he added: “Everton has the best away support in the Premier League. When I first arrived I was amazed at how many fans we would take to the away games and that gives you confidence even before the game starts.
“I’ve played for the club all over Europe and the following we have had has been unbelievable. At Goodison as well, when the fans are right behind us and the stadium is bouncing, it really can help players raise their game.”