Cape Town - It's a long way from his pinnacle experience as
a coach when he guided Bafana Bafana to what is still South Africa's only major
soccer success in the African Nations Cup 20 years ago - to helping a team of
Durban youngsters in one of the Motsepe-sponsored SAFA amateur leagues today.
"I'm doing it," explained the popular and
acclaimed 71-year-old coach who has been nicknamed 'The Dog', "because for
more than 54 years, first as a player and then a coach, it has been an integral
part of my life. And I’ll probably continue doing it in one way or another for
as long as I live."
With "The Dog" still barking as he approaches the
end of his coaching career, he says it remains
fun, stimulating and satisfying to plan and motivate a team of
enthusiastic players - "no matter at what level they are performing as long as they are intent on
improving and striving to do the best they can."
He started out in senior soccer as a 17 year-old midfielder
with Durban City in the old National Football League in 1962 and then after a
brief spell with Norman "The Silver Fox" Elliott's popular
combination moved to Durban United until a serious knee injury ended his
playing career in 1969.
He then coached a succession of amateur clubs in Durban for
almost 10 years before Durban City made an offer to their erstwhile budding
midfielder to return to the club in the capacity of head coach.
He helped City to honours in the early, formative years of
the non-racial NPSL and then moved with growing success through the ranks of
teams like AmaZulu and an eye-catching, exciting Bush Bucks until he stepped
onto the international stage to succeed Augusto Palacios as Bafana coach
shortly before the 1996 African Nations Cup.
Despite South Africa hosting the tournament, few gave Bafana
much chance of winning the tournament, but with infectious, characteristic
enthusiasm Barker maintained from the start of his tenure that it could be done
- and he was proved right.
He also guided Bafana through the qualifying rounds for the
1998 World Cup - only to be deposed before the tournament in France by
Frenchman Phillipe Troussier.
And his varied career since in the NSL and PSL has also been
a continual kaleidoscope of stimulating success inter-mingled with falls from
grace - often when least expected - like that in his last tenure with a professional
club at the tail-end of last year when he appeared to turn round the fortunes
of a struggling, relegation-threatened Maritzburg United - only to be fired
after five games.
"But the ups and downs has never affected my enthusiasm
for the game," he says, "and that's why I'm doing what I am right now
with a team in the Motsepe amateur league.
"And with soccer seemingly in my blood I'll continue my
association with the beautiful game as long as I can."