Breaking history and Brave Warriors’ trophy-winning coach, one Ricardo Mannetti, seem to have a lot in common.
Hardly out of his pair of shorts at the tender age of 15, Ricardo was the youngest footballer in the relatively short history of Namibian football to play at the highest level.
The young midfield dynamo made his senior debut for the Brave Warriors in a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Zimbabwe at Windhoek’s Independence Stadium way back in 1991.
He was among the first group of local footballers to join the paid ranks in a democratic Namibia when he signed his first professional contract with South African Professional Soccer League (PSL) outfit Light-body Santos Football Club in Cape Town in 1997.
As if this was not enough, he became the first Namibian to win a league title in the highly competitive PSL – winning the coveted silverware with the mother city outfit under the shrewd stewardship of multiple title-winning mentor, Gordon Igesund.
This phenomenal accolade was complemented by another triumph when he, as a coach, led the youthful Komesho Invitational side to victory in the popular Bay Hills Youth Tourney in his adopted city, Cape Town.
And to crown an impressive rollercoaster journey in the game that took him to almost all corners of the African continent – the man with the “Midas Touch” has done it again – this time, becoming the first coach in any team sports code to claim a regional title and rewrite the history books in post-independent Namibia. New Era Sport took time off to find out about the magic and secret behind his winning formula, and in an exclusive interview, the baby-faced coach relives his journey in football and why he chose Cape Town ahead of Durban.
Born in Windhoek in 1975, incumbent Brave Warriors head coach Ricardo Mannetti was just a 12-year-old when Namibia gained independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990.
Like may other boys in the neighbourhood, the notorious Bethlehem township – a second-rated residential area conveniently tailored for people of mixed race, preferably coloureds with close blood links to Bantus (blacks) – Ricardo was a football-crazy young boy and would play football at any given time.
His football during his infant years at the MH Greef Primary School in his native Khomasdal residential area but only rose to prominence when he graduated to the Ellah Du Plessis High School.
He was still a ‘laaitie’ (toddler) when he tested international football after he was chosen to represent South West Africa in the South African Provincial Youth Tournament in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Next stop was a small club going by the name of Manchester United but it was not long before the club was disbanded to make way for the establishment of Arsenal Football Club under the mentorship of local football guru, the hippy-look-alike uncle Bob Sissing.
Arsenal attracted the crème de la crème of highly gifted young footballers from Khomasdal and made waves in the highly competitive Central Namibia Football Association.
Nevertheless, as fate would have it, a compromise was reached to disband the team for the inevitable amalgamation with eternal bitter rivals Civics and as they say, the rest is history.
The newly formed team was made to engage in marathon play-offs to gain entry to the country’s elite league, which they negotiated with aplomb and Civics have been a household name in domestic football with a record-breaking three league titles to their credit.
In those days, the midfield combination of Bucksy, as Ricardo was affectionately known in football circles, Brian “Oubaas” Isaacs, Devon “Flamero de Janeiro” Jensen and the skilful Elgin “Sputla” Masite was regarded the most lethal in the business.
His exploits did not escape the eye of Brave Warriors German coach Peter Uberjahn, who put his head on the block by throwing the lad into the lion’s den at the tender age of 15 in a crucial AFCON qualifier against Zimbabwe.
Namibia lost the tie 4-0 and Uberjahn was heavily criticised and crucified by the media and supporters for his wisdom to field such a youngster ahead of established players but the wily German would not budge.
The young holding midfielder made the Doubting Thomases seat and eat humble pie with near faultless performances in subsequent matches. PSL outfit Santos got wind of the Namibian Wunderkind’s immerse talent and came knocking on the Civics’ door for Mannetti’s signature.
Following an explosive performance in the inaugural edition of the annual COSAFA Cup, Mannetti was sold for an undisclosed fee to the mother city outfit in 1997 where he was to spend a colourful eight years that culminated in winning the elusive league title and several other high-profile silverware.
“I vividly remember that I had another option to join forces with Maritzburg United, which was coached by Gordon Igesund at the time, but I settled for Santos because of environmental factors. Cape Town was more suitable to me in terms of culture, lifestyle, language, food, weather and many other things that fell perfectly in my favour,” reveals Mannetti.
His arrival at Santos coincided with the appointment of club’s blue-eyed boy Duncan Crowie, as player-coach. The Namibian adapted quickly and became a regular in the starting line up where he was to make the number eight jersey his own property.
Although Santos was usually a mid-table side in the true sense of the word, the club’s fortunes changed dramatically with the arrival of Gordon Igesund as head coach.
The Ricardo Mannetti’s inspired Santos would go on to win the elusive PSL title in 2001 under the Austria-born coach and went on to claim the Nedbank and BP Top Eight Cups under the tutorship of joint coaches Bobbie Solomons and Farouk Khan.
Back home, Ricardo played a pivotal role in the Brave Warriors’ rise to stardom, as they defied all odds staked against them to reach the regional COSAFA Cup final in its maiden edition in 1997 and 1999 – only to stumble at the last hurdle.
It was his tigerish midfield genius that propelled Namibia to their first qualification for Africa’s biggest showpiece, the AFCON in 1998 after numerous failed attempts.
Mannetti sent shockwaves in the local football folklore when he retired from competitive football at the age of 32 while still at the pinnacle of his astonishing football career.
He was to close his glorious football chapter in the gold and black colours of unfashionable Umtata-based outfit Bush Bucks for one more season before retreating to his native land.
Although he enjoyed his football in the PSL with Santos, Mannetti admits having difficulties in marking burly Cameroonian Sundowns midfielder Roger Feutmba.
“Eish, that man was a complete genius and possessed great vision because one could not take the ball away from his feet, overall, Sundowns had a composed team and were simply the best in the business,” he recalls.
Unlike many of his peers who disappeared from the game upon their retirement from the game, Mannetti knuckled down to some serious business and shifted to coaching that saw him obtain a coaching licence in Germany.
Ironically, while in Germany, Mannetti was reunited with former mentors Crowie (fellow student) while Uberjahn was the course instructor. After a short stint with boyhood team Civics, Mannetti was appointed head coach of Katutura giants Black Africa but soon left to take up employment with the Namibia Football Association (NFA), as a youth coach.
His first assignment was to steer the Komesho Youth Team to victory in the Bay Hills Youth Tourney in Cape Town in 2011 and also led the National Under-20 side to the final of the COSAFA Youth Cup in Zambia in 2013. Namibia lost to hosts Zambia in the final.
Mannetti was eventually elevated to the senior team’s coaching job after the controversial resignation of Roger Palmgren.
The young mentor made a serious statement when he led the Warriors to a 1-all draw against the mighty Super Eagles of Nigeria in a world cup qualifier on home soil in his debut match as senior coach.
Failure to lead the team to the 2015 AFCON finals in Equatorial Guinea gave the usually hard-to-please Brave Warriors’ followers enough ammunition to call for Mannetti’s head to roll but football authorities would have none of that and stuck by their man.
The former Warriors box-to-box midfielder silenced his critics when he led an untested youthful Brave Warriors side to victory in the regional COSAFA senior challenge, the first for any Namibia sports team."