Football is more than a habit, it’s an obsession.
Just ask Clive Barker, who, at the age of 68, has decided to take on another high-profile coaching position.
Last month, the popular former Bafana Bafana coach agreed to steer the fortunes of big-spending Bidvest Wits until the end of the season, after the Joburg club parted ways with Spaniard Antonio Habas-Lopez.
After an absence of three years – his last job was at AmaZulu in Durban – Barker is back doing what he loves best – on the bench of a football club, directing the tactical operations of the team.
Tonight, Barker sends his new team, Wits, out to take on improving Chippa United at Milpark Stadium in Joburg (kick-off 7.30pm) – and he’s more than confident of taking all the points.
After 38 years in the coaching business, with teams like AmaZulu, Durban City, Manning Rangers and Santos, he’s as enthusiastic and ready for a challenge as ever.
Barker will, of course, always be fondly remembered as the coach who inspired Bafana to African Nations Cup success in 1996.
One of the stars of that winning squad was goalkeeper Andre Arendse.
And, as fate or irony would have it, Arendse is now seated alongside Barker as the club’s assistant coach.
Wits have spent quite a bit of money refreshing their squad, with the objective of making the club more than just also-rans in the PSL, and the former Bafana duo are determined to try to make this happen.
“At my age, I’m fortunate to have got an opportunity like this,” said Barker.
“This is a club with great infrastructure and lots of quality players. It’s the first time I have taken a coaching position in Joburg. I’m here to try and improve the team.”
Barker is also aware of the changes the sport has undergone over the years.
“I think football’s a lot more athletic these days,” he said. “You can’t afford to carry players in the modern day. Everybody has to be an athlete as well as a footballer. That’s how much the pace of the game has increased.”
Barker got his tenure off to a winning start when Wits defeated Black Leopards 2-0 last week, with goals from Erwin Isaacs and Ryan Chapman. But, subsequently, they slumped to a 3-0 defeat to Bloemfontein Celtic.
So Barker is looking for an improved performance and greater consistency from his team against Chippa tonight.
Isaacs, particularly, is thriving under Barker’s tutelage. The striker from Lavender Hill, a former Santos player, saw very little game time under Habas-Lopez and was looking for a move away from Wits during the January transfer window.
But the first thing Barker did when taking over as coach was to persuade Isaacs to stay, that he had a role to play at the club.
Isaacs immediately repaid Barker’s faith with a match-winning performance against Leopards.
“Clive knows that it is not always that easy for players from the Cape to go to Joburg and do well, because it is difficult,” said Isaacs.
“We had a chat and he told me to keep working hard at training and show people what I can do.”
Meanwhile Chippa, under new coach Wilfred Mugeyi, showed tremendous improvement in defeating Leopards 3-1 in Philippi over the weekend.
Mugeyi has got the team playing with confidence and the Capetonians will feel they can pull off another result against Wits tonight.
Today: Free State Stars v Maritzburg Utd; University of Pretoria v Moroka Swallows; Orlando Pirates v Platinum Stars; Black Leopards v Kaizer Chiefs; AmaZulu v SuperSport United; Bidvest Wits v Chippa United (Milpark, 7.30pm)
Nedbank Cup last 32
Friday: Ajax Cape Town v Sundowns
Saturday: Maluti FET College v Orlando Pirates; United FC v Chippa United; SuperSport United v Moroka Swallows; University of Pretoria v Maritzburg Utd; Bidvest Wits v Kaizer Chiefs; Vardos FC v Golden Arrows
Sunday: Island FC v Polokwane City; Free State Stars v Witbank Spurs; Dynamos v Platinum Stars; Bloemfontein Celtic v Milano United; Mbombela United v Vasco Da Gama; Magesi FC v Jomo Cosmos - Cape Argus