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Parker Deserves That Much

It is official that Kaizer Chiefs will not renew the contract of one of their current longest-serving members, Bernard Parker, when it expires at the end of the month. 

Parker has been more like the face of the Naturena-based club. He’s given his all to Amakhosi throughout his stay at the club. He left everything on the field for the Glamour Boys. Each and every coach who came in to take charge at the club always singled him as one of the best players around. Proof of that is his consistent appearance in the team regardless of who is in charge. It was not through lack of quality at the club that this veteran was regularly featured, he was just in every coach’s good books and pushed himself into the team. Whether you agreed with him being played regularly or not, is neither here nor there. The point is that for every coach to have played Parker as much as they did, there had to be something he was doing that others were not. 

Bernard Parker has been a consummate professional and no one can question his commitment, professionalism and honouring the Chiefs badge whenever he donned that famous Black and Gold jersey. He represented Chiefs with aplomb on and off the field. This is one player every coach would like to have in his team because he’s an honest footballer. Age is obviously catching up with him, which is why the club’s official announcement on his future was met with mixed reactions. Surely there are those who feel he’s overstayed his welcome at Naturena and there’s a need for fresh blood, while others will, equally, feel Parker still has a role to play at the Arthur Zwane-led Amakhosi. Both arguments hold water because football, after all, is a game of opinions. However, one thing everyone will agree on is the fact that Bernard Parker deserves more than just a social media post to say his goodbyes to Amakhosi supporters. He deserves more than just an official press statement and a small quote attributed to him. This is someone who dedicated the better part of his football career to Kaizer Chiefs. He can’t just disappear like it happened with other classy former professionals like himself. Chiefs have to make sure that Parker says his official farewell to the club’s supporters in a professional way. Whether it will be through a testimonial game after he finally retires or whatever the club feel will work. The bottom line is that Parker can’t just disappear into oblivion from Chiefs, as we’ve seen with former greats like Thabo Mooki, Tinashe Nengomasha and, more recently, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Siphiwe Tshabalala. 

Imagine spending over a decade wearing the same jersey, representing the club with pride and playing consistently well, only to be chucked out of the system when your services are no longer needed. That’s not how we should be doing things in our football. Orlando Pirates did the same thing to arguably their most successful captain in the club’s history, Lucky Lekgwathi, who disappeared without notice and only resurfaces when he’s doing club activations as a legend, from time to time. Is that what our legends and loyal servants have been reduced to these days? Is that how we show gratitude, appreciation and thanking our former players after excellent service to our clubs and supporters? Surely this can’t be right! We can’t afford to have these legends disappear like they never even existed. When you see Lekgwathi, you still see Pirates because he’s one of the few players who epitomize what Pirates is all about. He has Pirates DNA in him, he’s one player who wore the team’s jersey with pride, served the team with loyalty and distinction, but where did that leave him? To see him so far from the club doesn’t sit well with anyone and it is an eyesore. To this day, “Phinda Mzala”, as Lekgwathi is affectionately known, hasn’t said his goodbye to the supporters and he’s not playing any official role at the club. We just can’t continue to have such cases of our former greats disappearing without a proper goodbye. 

Mamelodi Sundowns officially announced Hlompho Kekana’s departure from the club, not just through a press release but a proper press conference, and even offered him a position at the club as a sign of appreciation. That Kekana hasn’t been seen at Downs is simply because he’s not retired and therefore he’s been allowed to explore his options until he feels it is time to hang up his boots, then he gets absorbed into the team. Now that’s been done with open mind and hearts as he wasn’t forced to retirement. This is the same sentiment that should be applied to the likes of Lekgwathi, Parker and Mooki just to mention three. These are true professionals that should never be lost to the football system. They are the faces of their respective teams and exactly what South African professional football is all about. These are the players that represent exactly what our football clubs stand for. When we lose them in the system, we are slowly losing ourselves, our identity, our culture and role models who should be playing a significant role in preserving who and what these teams are! 

Back in the day, there were testimonial games for these kinds of players and we, unfortunately, don’t see those anymore. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, just a simple show of appreciation will go a long way. It also doesn’t have to be an individual player’s testimonial game. Clubs can organize a group testimonial game for their respective players, something along the lines of the NBA All Star Games but just group players to have fun and say their goodbye to the supporters and officially hang up their boots. It is not just about money or monthly salaries but the emotional attachment and also ensuring that the next generation will know that loyalty gets rewarded. That way, you will have players who spend their entire career at one club instead of club-hopping until their retirement. Now you can’t blame players who move from club to club in pursuit of greener pastures and a bigger salary because, at the end of the day, there’s no appreciation for loyalty and service. At the end of the day, players need to feel appreciated and it is not right for these players to be tossed aside as soon as the coaches feel they don’t need them in their teams anymore. We see a lot of our players retiring through social media, where they thank the supporters, but that’s not the way to go! 

There’s nothing stopping teams from doing these testimonial games like they used to in the past. One understands that it would be a logistical nightmare to cater for every legendary figure leaving their team, but players can be grouped and these testimonials become a decennial (10-year) event, for instance. We need to appreciate and respect our players and supporters more by ensuring that our players don’t just disappear. There has to be a formal exit so that everyone is on the same page. That will enhance the relationship between clubs, players and supporters so that no one feels used. We all know that Marcelo will not be at Real Madrid next season and that the UEFA Champions League final was his last game in the club’s colours. Surely Bernard Parker deserves that much, just like the other legends, and it is not too much to ask of our beloved clubs. 





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