Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Bafana Bafana coach CLIVE BARKER talks about the most talented player he coached, Stuart Baxter’s style and the national team’s chances against Egypt on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Bafana Bafana’s AFCON 2019 displays?
Clive Barker: Everybody is disappointed and I’m no different. Bafana Bafana have plenty of room to improve because they have been terrible up until now. The players don’t look like they are really enjoying themselves and have appeared frightened to venture over the halfway line. Traditionally, South African footballers have always expressed themselves. Our sides that have really played well have had players who want to do something on the ball. Bafana failed to deliver convincing displays during the group stages and, when watching them, the feeling I got is that they are worried about losing. If you are worried about losing then you are never going to take any chances. (Bafana are the only team at AFCON 2019 not to attempt a shot on target in two of their three group matches). It’s frustrating for everybody and certainly for the supporters back home. If we compare it to the 1996 AFCON tournament, which we won, we managed to score 11 goals and the current Bafana side haven’t even had 11 shots on target in three games. You have got to score goals to take the pressure off. You can never really express yourselves if you don’t get in front and secure a comfortable lead.
Sport24 asked: Is Baxter the right man to take SA football forward?
Clive Barker: Having myself been coach of Bafana Bafana from 1994 to 1997, I don’t really want to comment on other coaches. I know how difficult it is and how high the expectations are of a great nation. People trying to get managers sacked happens in the game because it’s a tough world in football. I suppose the media and public are entitled to their opinion and I think Stuart will ride it out on a decent result. The only criticism I have is that he has been really negative in terms of his tactics. When you look at talented attacking players such as Themba Zwane, Percy Tau and Lebo Mothiba, I think they are so much better than what they are delivering at the moment. Historically, South African players have loved to take opponents on and do different things on the ball. Some people might not accept it, but it’s part of our nature as a football-playing nation. I believe Bafana haven’t caught alight at AFCON as yet because they haven’t been able to express themselves. I’m sure Stuart hasn’t been stopping them, but Bafana have just looked flat and, for me, that is really disappointing.
Sport24 asked: Your view on Bafana sneaking into the round of 16?
Clive Barker: I’m hopeful Stuart might turn around and say to the players, “Look, we have got in through the backdoor (as one of the best third-place finishers) and let’s just have a go and see how we do.” It’s about taking the pressure of the players. You are always going to have to take some chances in football, which is part and parcel of the game. As a coach, I wasn’t frightened about being caught on the counter-attack now and again. Being caught on the counter is going to happen, but if you don’t play to your potential you are never going to win. If they don’t take their opportunity against Egypt with both hands they aren’t going to reach the next round. They must look at themselves and say, “We are going to be judged on this result.” They must get out there and play to win at the Cairo International Stadium on Saturday. Bafana won’t get the desired result against the hosts if they sit back the whole time. Stuart has to take a calculated risk and say to his players, “I want you to play off the cuff, get in at them, win the ball back as quickly as they give it away to us and really counter and have a go.” If he does that ahead of the last-16 encounter, Bafana have got half a chance, but if he doesn’t he will die wondering why he didn’t do it that way. I think team selection has largely been spot on, but Stuart hasn’t let them go. The likes of Tau and Zwane are top-class players and if we get the two of them buzzing around upfront, in amongst the big defenders, and make the play nice and quick, there is no doubt that Bafana Bafana have a chance to fight their way back. However, they won’t get anything from anybody if they sit at the half-way line and hope.
Sport24 asked: What do you make of Egypt as our opponents on Saturday?
Clive Barker: Egypt is a very European-coached side, they keep the ball very well and there is no doubt about it that they are going to be very difficult to contain at dead-ball situations. I would think they are favourites for various reasons. They are a top-class team and will take some beating. However, I don’t think Bafana are out of it and a game like this may bring the best out of the team. I expect Egypt to win the tournament, but I think their hardest game will be against South Africa. I say that because I believe in the Bafana team and South African football at large. I think Bafana are just about ready to take off and they have to. If they analyse what has gone on in their matches in Egypt thus far, they would say to themselves, “We have been horrible. Let’s change what we are doing and do things differently.” The quality of player is there, but I don’t know if they have been given the opportunity to play freely. I hope that for Stuart’s own sake, and that of the country, he says, “We have been given a second chance now, so let’s really go have a crack and take the game to them.”
Sport24 asked: Who was the most talented footballer you ever coached?
Clive Barker: There is no doubt about it that Doctor Khumalo was the best player I dealt with. He was my favourite and always had the ability to set players up. He was magnificent in that way. Given an opportunity, he also scored vital goals for club and country. He was our playmaker and when we played against Germany in 1995 I remember saying to him, “Doc, just do something different to get us going.” And of course the first time the ball came to him, he put it right through his opponent’s legs! The late Shoes Moshoeu was magnificent too. When we had Doctor and Shoes in our side we had automatic width, and whenever the team was in trouble the pressure was released through them. They offered us the way forward and were a fantastic pair of footballers. The only reason I have gone for Doctor ahead of Shoes is because he produced more telling passes. However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Shoes scored many goals. Both are favourite sons of South Africa and of mine. I was so sorry to lose Shoes to cancer – it was terrible. He was a man in his prime.
Sport24 asked: Has South African domestic football improved as a product?
Clive Barker: Yes. I feel the national team has to take cognisance of what has transpired in our league and, if they do that, we might go into the hat again. Let’s just hope that Bafana Bafana change their playing attitude going forward. There is no doubt about it that the PSL has come on in leaps and bounds. There has been good quality play this season and I have really enjoyed the matches. Sundowns are a fabulous team and the way they retained the Premiership title was very impressive. Pitso Mosimane has definitely improved as a manager. He has got the players playing to the best of their abilities and must take lots of credit for where South African football could be going.
Sport24 asked: What legacy would you like to leave behind one day?
Clive Barker: The fact that I wanted to play football the right way. Namely by entertaining and playing with the flair that we possess in this country. I don’t know why we changed it and did forewarn everybody during the Ted Dumitru era. I have always felt that if we copied other nations we could never beat them, but if we developed the way we wanted to play, we would prove successful. I wish I was a young man again because I would certainly want another shot at getting the national side playing its capacity... Coaching overseas was never a desire of mine and I was very happy in South Africa. This country is a fabulous place to live and coach and I really have no regrets.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests, who would they be and why?
Clive Barker: I would invite late statesman Nelson Mandela. We had a lot to do with him as a team and he was very influential in terms of the results we got. I would also extend an invitation to incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa. He is trying to turn South Africa on its head and get us going the right way again. Frank Sinatra would also have been a favourite dinner guest. It would have been fantastic to bring him out to South Africa and to have heard him sing some of the songs he made famous. In terms of food for the night, a tasty pasta cooked by my wife, Yvonne, would be on offer.