The 25-year-old midfielder shone brightly in the Ajax Amsterdam side which won their domestic League title in 2004, and reached the second round of the Uefa Champions League in 2005/06. But he failed to show his true talent during a mixed 2006/07 season with German club Borussia Dortmund.
David Moyes, manager of English Premier League club Everton, had kept a close eye on Pienaar since his Ajax days, and, when the chance came to sign him on a season-long loan deal, Moyes did not hesitate.
His judgment appears to have been sound. Pienaar is now a regular starter for the Liverpool-based club, and impressed in patches during his team’s creditable 1-1 draw at 2005 and 2006 Premier League champions Chelsea on Sunday.
Moyes uses Pienaar on the left side of a four-man or a five-man midfield, and the Johannesburg-born player interprets the role very well.
Not only is he skilful with the ball and perceptive in his movement when Everton are attacking, Pienaar also shows the diligence and commitment demanded by Moyes when his team are not in possession.
Pienaar has also played a significant role in Everton’s progress in the Uefa Cup, and Moyes, not surprisingly, is delighted.
“Steven has done well for us in flashes. He gives us a bit of composure on the ball, and he has impressed in parts.
“Even if he is not yet at the level he was when he was at Ajax, he is doing OK for us. He had a year at Dortmund, and we decided to take him on loan.
“He has been making an impact in our matches. He tired a little during the Chelsea match, but that was only because he had been working so hard up to that point.”
At Ajax, Pienaar was a team-mate of Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Cristian Chivu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, all of whom have progressed to become major figures in the European game.
Van der Vaart plays for Hamburg in Germany, but is courted by several of Europe's top clubs, Chivu and Ibrahimovic represent Italian champions Inter Milan, while Sneijder has made a promising start to his Real Madrid career after joining the Spanish giants from Ajax last summer.
It cannot be easy for Pienaar – considered by many to be as good as those four when they played for Ajax – to look on from the shadows while his former team-mates are feted across the continent.
But in choosing Everton, he might just have backed a winning horse. Moyes is known to be one of the shrewdest managers in the English game, and he is determined to be the man who makes Everton the force they were in the 1980s, when the Goodison Park club were one of the strongest teams in the world.
If Pienaar continues at his present rate, Moyes is likely to ask to make his loan move from Dortmund permanent.
And if the slightly-built midfielder can play a central role in Everton's resurgence, he will have no reason to envy the achievements of his former Ajax team-mates.