PARKER IS ON THE UP
BRITISH pop singer Yazz would not have had Bernard Parker in mind when she released her smash dance hit, The Only Way Is Up, in the late 1980s. But the song may well have been written for the Bafana Bafana striker.
"My progress over the past two years has been unbelievable - always going a level up," says the 24-year-old. "I am glad I have lots of stamina and mental strength to keep me going. I think, 'wow, look at where I am'."
Parker's enthusiasm is not surprising. In the past two years, he has gone from Thanda Royal Zulu (from the time they were Benoni Premier United) to Red Star Belgrade in Serbia in January last year before representing South Africa at the Confederations Cup in June last year. In September last year, he moved to Dutch club FC Twente, who this year won the Dutch league.
And he is still reaching for the stars.
"I still feel I can go one better and I know I have to work hard to improve. I played in the Europa Cup last season and soon I will be playing my dream in the World Cup. And next season it will be the UEFA Champions League.
"I've learnt a lot. You learn every day. As a player, I have improved technically, tactically and my discipline is much better. The experience I have acquired in Europe has certainly made me a better player and I want to take this into the World Cup."
Born in Reiger Park, Boksburg on Gauteng's East Rand, Parker excelled in many sports including short- and long-distance running. He also achieved Eastern Gauteng colours in swimming. But the persistence, support and guidance of one school teacher eventually made him choose football.
"I had this teacher at primary (school), Mr Denzil Bezuidenhout, who liked the way I played," Parker recalls. "He always supported me and bought me soccer boots. In my final year at primary school, he took me to the School of Excellence for trials and I made it. I was at the school for four years and went to Mamelodi Sundowns when coach Khabo Zondo was head of development.
"After only four months I was signed by Benoni Premier United because I was feeling I could play for any senior team."
He is hopeful Twente's victory will rub off on Bafana. He says since he made his debut for Bafana Bafana in 2007, this has been the best period for the national team.
"The mood in our camp has reached unprecedented levels. Everybody is on point and we work hard every day, motivating each other and supporting one another. We have achieved a lot. The players' fitness levels are at their peak. We are playing properly with the ball on the ground, communicating and have been playing according to the coach's instructions.
"We also have to get rid of the mentality that there are local and overseas-based players. We are one team and we represent one country," he says.
Parker's brilliant left-footed drive against Guatemala this week, SA's fifth in the 5-0 drubbing of the visitors, reminded many of his potency and alertness in front of goal.
But it was his two strikes against the Kiwis at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg in a Group A match of the Fifa Confederations Cup last year that silenced his doubters.
A man for the big occasion, Parker is hard-working, energetic and explosive. He can also hold the ball up and draw in other attackers.
Calm on the field, Parkerconstantly threatens defenders because of his mobility, awareness and commitment.
On Bafana, he says: "We need to believe in ourselves.
"Once we get through to the group stages, we can go all the way."