Former Brave Warriors agile shot stopper Ronnie Kanalelo is arguably one of the finest goalkeepers in the history of domestic football of his generation.
The beanpole net guard is generally regarded as the man who stabilized and transformed a fragile Brave Warriors rearguard with breathtaking saves and aerial command during the smooth transition of local football under the stewardship of German mentor Peter Uberjahn and his deputy Rusten Mogane.
Bro Rokes played a pivotal role in Namibia’s amazingly incredible qualification in their maiden appearance at Afcon in Burkina Faso in 1998.
Unlike many young boys his age who started as outfield players, Bro Rokes preferred manning the sticks during the hotly contested street games with his buddies in the wind-swept dusty streets of Kuisebmond, Walvis Bay.
Although he was always the first choice goalie for his primary school teams Duinesig and Emmanuel Ruiter Primary – the tallish athlete with an imposing figure started out to play competitive football for ambitious local outfit Super Stars, mainly comprising a bunch of enthusiastic young footballers from Kuisebmond.
Aged 15, Bro Ronnie rose up the ranks and was snapped up by local giants Blue Waters, deputizing the great Samuel “Bonnetti” Niilenge and Harris Thomas.
New Era Sport caught up with the strongly built retired goalie as he relives his long and winding journey in the dog eat dog business of professional football and why he turned down an offer to ply his trade in Hungary, Eastern Europe.
Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa
Born Phillemon Kanalelo at Ukongo village in the vast Ohangwena Region on the 23rd of May 1971, Ronnie relocated to the coastal harbour town of Walvis Bay with his mother as a two-year-old boy hardly out of his nappies.
It was in Kuisebmond where he hooked up with the likes of Eliphas Shivute, Titus Kandanga, Eliah Hipundjua and many other talented young footballers.
He would feature for Super Stars in a number of exhibition matches and knockout tournaments where they were made to play second fiddle to their more celebrated counterparts Blue Waters, Eleven Arrows, Explorer Eleven and Namib Woestyn.
Despite having to live in the shadows of their more established Kuisebmond rivals – Super Stars became the toast of the township with their brand of beautiful football that captured the imagination of many a neutral fan.
However, the team inevitably became a feeding side for the big guns with the majority of their playing personnel recruited at regular intervals to cross the floor for greener pastures in the top league.
Ronnie joined boyhood team Blue Waters and after a few cameo roles as he had to play second fiddle to the great Bonnetti Niilenge – frustrations derived from lack of regular game time obliged Rokes to jump ship and join forces with the Birds’ bitter rivals Eleven Arrows – much to the chagrin of the Blue Waters faithful.
He arrived at the maroon and gold outfit at the right time as Arrows was in the process of transforming their playing personnel with a number of highly gifted youngsters having been roped in to replace the old guard.
Ronnie was to be reunited with old buddies Safile Shivute, Bobby Samaria, Elvis Eiseb, Stanley Louw, Sadike Gottlieb, Gheny Emvula, Sono Shivute and Oupaa “Horse” Tjizumaue in a well-oiled squad led by the tireless hard galloping midfield kingpin Ben Gonteb.
His presence between the sticks for the coastal outfit would propel the seasiders to greater heights as Arrows started to make serious inroads in domestic football and in the process also regaining the bragging rights in Kuisebmond by becoming the most feared outfit in the business.
The rejuvenated Arrows surprised friend and foe when they won the country’s flagship league title in 1991, the same year Ronnie joined ranks with the maroon and gold outfit, one of very multi-cultural football entities alongside Katutura outfit Black Africa unlike most of their counterparts that were strictly established along tribal lines. His next stop was the first selected national under-23 side under the stewardship of Peter Uberjahn in post-independence in 1991.
Namibia hosted the regional Cosafa Zone Six youth tourney and Ronnie was amongst the selected players to represent their motherland.
With the country in dire need of new goalkeepers following the retirement of Asaria Ndjiva Kauami, Lewa Awaseb and many other decent shot stoppers – Ronnie was the obvious choice and it came as no surprise when he was called up for the Brave Warriors warm-up match against Lesotho, in Maseru.
Namibia recorded their first win following their admission to international football claiming a 2-1 triumph with Joseph ‘Draaitjies” Martin netting the opener.
Aged just 21, Ronnie’s official Warriors debut was against Madagascar in a 3-0 drubbing in Antananarivo during a World Cup qualifier in 1992.
Back at club level, the agile shot stopper continued his good form and many teams took note of his amazing exploits between the sticks. Black Africa came knocking on the door for his signature and as they say, the rest is history.
The Gemengde outfit had just lost their number one goalie Dave Gaseb who relocated to Rosh Pinah having accepted a lucrative job offer in the southern mining town.
Gaseb’s sudden departure left Angolan import Papi Matengu as the only net guard and they needed a reliable cover for the inconsistent Angolan shot stopper.
As widely expected, Ronnie walked straight into BA’s starting line-up and went on to win almost every single silverware there was to be won on offer. He was a valuable member of the all-conquering BA side, duped the King of Knockout Cups.
In the meantime, both Uberjahn and Mogane, a former BA stalwart, would with time assemble probably the most competitive squad of all time in the history of Namibian football.
That Warriors squad was moulded into world beaters with many teams including the great Ivory Coast, South Africa’s Bafana Bafana, Seychelles, Mali, Morocco, Cameroon and a host of African heavyweights feeling the wrath of the giant killers at what would become their favourite slaughterhouse, known as “the House of Pain”, the Windhoek Independence Stadium where many teams failed to manufacture positive results.
Against all odds stacked against them and with not a single professional footballer in the squad, Namibia surprised many when the team qualified for the 1998 Afcon finals in Burkina Faso at the expense of continental heavyweights Kenya, Gabon and Cameroon.
Former Mamelodi Sundowns coach and talent scout Stanely “Screamer’ Tshabalala, a member of the first Kaizer Eleven squad that toured South West Africa (SWA) for exhibition matches in 1969, and his colleague Angelo Tshiclas, had seen enough and the pair dangled a juicy carrot in the face of Bro Rokes to pack his bags heading to the PSL giants for an undisclosed transfer fee in 1997.
The giant Namibian shot stopper made his debut for Sundowns against Wits University in a 1-0 win that saw him keep a clean sheet and went on to win several trophies and accolades in the highly competitive PSL and the African continent.
His decorated trophy cabinet includes three league titles, Rothmans Cup, Telkom Charity Cup and a silver medal in the continental CAF Champions League.
“We won the first leg of the final 1-0 at home in Pretoria but lost the decisive second leg 3-0 (3-1 on aggregate) away in Cairo against hosts Al Ahly in 2000.”
After eight years of uninterrupted service with the Pretoria outfit, Ronnie hung up his gloves, as he desperately wanted to return home with the ultimate view of venturing into other business. “I did coaching courses (level one and two) with SAFA while I was in South Africa.”
During his time at Sundowns, Ronnie had the privilege of being coached by some of the world’s best football brains – Angelo Cappa, Paul Dolezar, Muhsin Ertugral, Clemens Westerdorf, Ted Dimitru, Viktor Bondarenko and Angolan mentor Ndjelma Calvanchade, amongst others.
He also rubbed shoulders with some of the finest footballers ever to have graced South African shores led by Raphael Chikwu, Roger Feutba, Allan Amagou, Siaka Tiene, Pitso Mosimane, Isaac Shai, Joas Hlupi Magolego, Daniel Mudau, Alex Bapela, Augustine ‘Mtakhathi” Makalakalane, Joel “Fire” Masilela and Jethro “Lovers” Mohlala.
“When I arrived at Sundowns I was made to fight for a starting berth with John Tlale and Zimbabwean goalie Nelson Bandura, so the competition was quite tough but later Bandura left the club and it was always going to be two-horse race between John and me.”
Ronnie could have played his football overseas but the Namibian declined an offer from a Hungarian top club.
“The money they offered me was basically the same as what I was earning at Sundowns if one had to consider the high costs of living in Europe and other technicalities that come with being far away from home – hence my decision to decline the offer.”
During his time in the highly competitive PSL, Ronnie faced many strikers but the former Brave Warriors agile shot stopper singles out former Orlando Pirates lethal goal poacher Jerry “Legs of Thunder’ Sikhosana as a nightmare for goalkeepers.
“In those days there were very good strikers like Shaun Bartlett, Pollen Ndlanya and a few others, but Jerry was a different kettle of fish. He was very competitive and an aggressive fellow – your typical old-fashioned centre forward who terrorized defenders non-stop.”