|Dog days: Aces coach Clive Barker|
Speaking on my football show BOLLOCKZ! on www.ballz.co.za, Barker said: “OJ has been fantastic. A revelation. He reminds me of Muhammad Ali when he takes his top off! With him we’ve got half a chance to win a Cup competition too.
“He seems to be really enjoying it at Aces, OJ doesn’t need reminding of what happened to him in the past. When I look at him, in that holding role in the middle of the park where Spurs initially played him, he’s a terrific character. A competitor. He reminds me of Mark Fish!”
Mabizela started out at Maritzburg United before moving to Orlando Pirates, where he scored against a touring Tottenham Hotspur. He was duly shipped off to London, scoring on a beauty on his debut against Leicester in 2003.
Homesickness and “a poor attitude” meant “Old John” returned to South Africa after only nine first-team games at White Hart Lane, but after spells at Mamelodi Sundowns, Platinum Stars, Bidvest Wits and Chippa United, Barker has done what he’s good at: get the best out of a 33-year-old who was generally considered to be past it.
Barker, who coached Bafana Bafana to the now-legendary 1996 African Cup of Nations triumph, said: “When you win everything seems okay but when you lose, it’s not so good on the bus home.
“It’s not just OJ. Bafana Nhlapo is the in-form goalkeeper at the moment, he’s hot, gone four games without conceding a goal (before Sunday’s 1-0 defeat against Polokwane City)
“I’d be disappointed if we don’t finish in the top eight this season, we’ve got quality players with the right attitude. I just think we all bind, at the moment we’re very happy about what happened against Mamelodi Sundowns, beating the top team in the league. But you don’t want to tempt fate.”
At 69, Barker’s revival has taken many by surprise. Including his wife.: “It’s all good for me, Yvonne is heavily involved in her ballet at the moment, giving a week-long course in Hilton, so I can get on with it.
“I’m not going to tell you how old I am – I’ll just say I’m close to Sir Alex Ferguson! There you go, you can work it out!”
And with that we cast out minds back to another era – the early 1980s when The Dog was a pioneering force for football under Apartheid.
He grins: “I remember when you and I were involved at Bush Bucks in Durban in the 1980s. You were part of that campaign that kept football going. Then you went overseas to Fleet Street – it’s nice to have you back here!
“You sum it up exactly. We did things that were unthinkable under Apartheid. I look at it and I think a lot of names should be remembered. We walked out at Orlando Stadium, they threw things at us, it was a chance to get even with what was going on at the time.
“A lot of footballers made big sacrifices, they should have streets named after them. Scotsman Andy Standton, the big goalkeeper Dave Watterson, little Daniel Ramarutsi… we had big strong lads at Bush Bucks!
“I’ve always argued that was the best side ever put together in South Africa. Bennet Gondwe, Professor Ngubane, Raul Gonzales (father of Chile’s Mark Gonzalez)… Mark Tovey at centre-back. Neil was a good player and captained Bafana to that AFCON but his brother was a better defender.
“Those were great days. I remember you taking Mark Gleeson to his first game to watch us. Those were pioneering days. It was a dream. The football was fantastic.
“Those were great times and we’re still going! We must have a cup of coffee with Lawrence Big Bear Ngubane!”
BOLLOCKZ! my own football show on www.ballz.co.za, airs every Thursday from 9am. See the Ballz channel on www.youtube.com for our growing collection of interviews with the big names in South African football.
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