JOHANNESBURG - Bernard Parker is elated with the prospect of leading Kaizer Chiefs in the semi-finals of the Caf Champions League against Wydad AC during his 10th year at the club. He insists it will be important for them to step-up to the occasion in the back-to-back matches.
After a two-and-a-half-year stint in Europe, which included spells in Serbia, the Netherlands and Greece, Parker heeded the call to return home in 2011 - to join Chiefs. At Amakhosi he won four trophies including two Premiership titles, the MTN8 and Nedbank Cup between 2013-2015.
Parker and Co have set a record for all the wrong reasons in the past six seasons as they've failed to win a trophy. But they have a chance to rewrite the history books as they are three matches away from winning the Champions League.
They will clash with Wydad in the first leg of the semis away on Saturday and at home next weekend. Chiefs have already punched above their weight by reaching this stage of the competition, but progressing to the final would be a massive achievement.
“I feel great. Time flies. It's been 10 years already. I think I have won every trophy (locally). It's been a wonderful career and what a way to be blessed with being part of the Chiefs team that's going into the semifinals of the Champions League,” Parker said.
“This is massive (for the entire club). This is where, as a team, we can make history. It would be lovely for me to be part of this history in my 10th year. We need to go in wholeheartedly, with a clean mind and a fresh body and everything else will follow, in terms of our quality."
Parker has every right to be excited as Chiefs have never reached the semifinals of the Champions League before. Chiefs have endured a turbulent domestic season as they qualified for the top eight on the last day of the season under interim coaches Arthur Zwane and Dillon Sheppard.
The club sacked coach Gavin Hunt, who was in charge for only nine months, ahead of the penultimate round of matches in the league. Hunt was recently replaced by Stuart Baxter who was in charge of the team between 2013-2015.
“Changes have brought light in the squad - not only in the field but also in the change-room as well. The guys are happy. Whenever there's change, everyone wants to impress the new boss. Mr Baxter knows the club and players and that's an extra plus,” Parker said.
Baxter is not expected to sit in the dugout when Chiefs are away to Wydad as he is awaiting his work permit, meaning Zwane and Sheppard will continue their duties as interim coaches. The duo were Hunt's assistants when Chiefs faced Wydad in the group stage.
Chiefs were hammered 4-0 by Wydad away, before winning 1-0 at home. They subsequently finished behind the Moroccans to qualify for the knockout stage where they defeated Simba 4-3 on aggregate. Parker says they know Wydad's strengths and weaknesses.
“The good thing about this match is that we've played them before. In the first game, things didn't go according to plan.
“But we got a good result in the second match because we already knew them. We know them by heart and by the back of our heads,” he said.