The Big Interview: Clive Barker

Clive Barker-led Mpumalanga Black Aces have been one of the stand-out club's in the Absa Premiership this season, on the back of their promotion from the National First Division last season.

AmaZayoni currently occupy fifth place in the table, level on 40 points with SuperSport United above them and have a genuine chance of a top-four finish.

They have impressed everyone this season with a lot of credit going to veteran former Bafana Bafana coach Barker. caught up with the 69-year-old this week to find out what his recipe to success has been. A promoted club mixing it with the big boys is rarely heard off in South Africa, but Aces have managed it and more impressively sustained this form through the season. Just five games to go now and you can go even higher. How have you managed it?

Clive Barker (CB): There are various reasons why we are where we are. The players that we've got have worked extremely hard. There are some really top-notch, quality players at this football club, and you have to have those two factors work hand-in-hand.

Then you also have to have hierarchy and the two brothers, George and Mario (Morfou), who gave us the opportunity. They brought in the players, we picked the ones we wanted, which was a tough task because we had to sacrifice few that had won promotion.

So it was quite a tough time at the beginning, things got better and we're trying to end with a flourish. One of the impressive factors has been your results against the big three. In five matches against Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns, you've lost just once and beaten all of them. Surely Clive Barker must take credit for that?

CB: I don't think one man can be given that kind of credit. It's a combination of the support from my technical team and the quality of player I've worked with. If anybody thinks you're a coach, you've got t have the players to compliment it. And as I've mentioned earlier, this group has been fantastic. Looking at the log standing, you can go even higher. But that was not the target when the season started, right?

CB: I think initially if you asked the directors what they wanted out of the season, they would have said retaining our Premiership status. They just wanted to survive and as things moved along, things looked better and they wanted to finish 12th and from there it became the top eight and then the top six. Now we're eluding to the top four, so the targets have shifted through the season, based on our performances.

There's still a long way to go, four games, but if we win our next one this week, it will go a long way to getting into the top four. When we watch you in the dugout, your enthusiasm and passion for the game seems to have not waned. How much longer can you go?

CB: I'm very happy at this club, I've never been so excited working with a single group of players in my life. When I see the way they work, the way they pass the ball, the way they keep it, the way they score goals and the general happiness. As long as the club wants me, I'll stay.