Clive Barker’s seen so much change in his lifetime that there are moments when he thinks it’s all a dream.
“If you told me in the 70s when I was mad enough to go and play in the townships that we’d host a World Cup in 2010 and that Durban would have a worldclass stadium, I would have thought you are crazy,” Barker, who coached South Africa to their only African Cup of Nations crown in 1996, said.
Barker, 65, though seemed alert enough when he somewhat grandly told the Asian media gathering here that “South Africa or an African team would win the World Cup this time.” The soft carpet of the conference room notwithstanding, you would hear a pin drop.
“Look at the number of African players in top leagues of the world. And this time, they are playing at home. Getting out of the group phase would be our first target but I would hate to play South Africa in the knockout round. And I can assure you no team would like to face an African team beyond the group stage. With a bit of luck, a good draw an African team could do it,” the stocky, sprightly Durbanite said.
If Barker gets it right, he could stand for president. If he doesn’t, he will have Pele, whose predictions are usually a disaster, for company.
He’s happy that Brazilian Carlos Pereira, back as South Africa national coach, has asked for inputs from South African coaches on why the Bafana Bafana (that’s what the team is called and it means The Boys) have so spectacularly underperformed (eight losses in the last 10 matches, scoring only one goal in the last seven games).
“We have a problem with strikers and quite a few of our players are spending too much time on the benches of European clubs. But it’s also true that by the time (Joel) Santana (Pereira’s replacement) went, had clearly lost the confidence of the players.”
Barker also felt the 1996 triumph came too early for South Africa. “We were a young nation which had won the rugby World Cup and were on top in cricket. The Blacks too wanted to say we had won something and soon we had a situation where Nelson Mandela would come to watch us train. That was the first time all of South Africa supported a football team.
“Once we won the Cup of Nations and qualified for the World Cup (1998 France), we thought it’s too easy. What we lacked is consistency at the under-17 levels and planning. But this World Cup is another opportunity for us to take off,” Barker, now a technical director with AmaZulu FC, a South African Premier Soccer League team, said. The Durban-based team is coached by Neil Tovey, his captain in the Class of ‘96.