Former Ajax Amsterdam and Bafana Bafana winger Steven Pienaar has urged young South African footballers to aim for Europe’s prominent divisions even if it means reaching that destination via lowly-ranked leagues.

Pienaar is a graduate of the Safa-Transnet Football School of Excellence, which he credits for sharpening his skills, before he joined Ajax Amsterdam from their Cape Town satellite club in 2001.

The now-retired Pienaar went straight from South Africa to play in the Dutch top-flight without using other lower-ranked European leagues as a springboard for more competitive football.

“Our boys in SA have to get into leagues like Belgium and in Scandinavia to develop themselves because that is the stepping stone to the big leagues in Europe. You are basically on the backyard of the big leagues,” Pienaar told Sowetan Live.

With the Safa-Transnet School of Excellence not as much football talent as it used to, Pienaar has bemoaned its state.

The much-acclaimed football academy used to churn out player after player who would go on to represent South Africa at international level.

Bernard Parker, Dillon Sheppard, Keagan Dolly, Andile Cele, Daine Klate, Bryce Moon, Dillon Sheppard, Shaun Potgieter, Gabriel Mofokeng and Lucky Maselesele are just some of the players who passed through the School of Excellence.

“When I was there [School of Excellence] it was totally different. Transnet pumped in a lot of money into the school because they believed in the project and they were fully behind it,” said Pienaar.

“Over the last couple of years the school has been going a bit downward with not enough players coming through for different reasons.

“I don’t know if it’s the financial part of things with sponsors not putting enough money in or what.

“If I am not mistaken, about 80 percent of the players from the school turned professional and some of them played for Bafana Bafana.

“I remember that at some stage when I was playing for the SA Under-19 national team, we had about eight players from the school.”

The 38-year-old is worried about South Africa’s lack of football development projects ran along the lines of his alma mater. 

“It clearly shows that development is very important for the future of the country and its national team. We don’t have a lot of development schools like that and it is just sad the way it is going now with the school,” concluded Pienaar.

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