Nicknamed the “Magnet”, Ronnie Kanalelo is a Namibian football legend and renowned retired goalkeeper, who competed with the likes of John Tlale for a place between the sticks at South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns. He won league titles in three consecutive seasons with Sundowns. In this relived interview with SoccerLaduma’s Tavern Talk, Kanalelo says the reason he quit the game in 2005 is because “there was no motivation to carry on”.
What has been your most embarrassing moment of your career?
We once went to play in Ivory Coast and we lost 6-1. I mean, to concede six goals was very embarrassing. The other one was when we played SuperSport United at Caledonian Stadium and they beat us 4-0. There was an aerial ball played in behind our defence – just outside the box, and I came rushing out. As I wanted to head the ball away, I lost my footing and fell. As I tried to get up, I couldn’t get to the ball and the striker headed into an empty net. Actually, they made it the Moemish of the Week on TV. It was so funny!
Ha, ha, ha. Tell us more...
There was a very nice atmosphere in the team, especially when we went to play away. Usually, after the game, the guys would go out and I would just relax in my room. As soon as I heard their voices on their way back in the early hours of the morning, I would walk out while still wearing my boxer shorts. I knew that they’d come back to the hotel with girls. Because of my muscular physique, I would just go and spoil the moment, ha, ha…I would walk in the corridor of the hotel and the guys would shout at me: “Go to your room! I don’t know what your problem is.” Ha, ha, ha, they didn’t like it. The next morning, they would complain to me: “We come with chicks here and you are busy walking around and showing off your muscles.” Ha, ha, ha, I would just start laughing!
You were known for wearing tight shorts. What was that all about?
I didn’t like long pants. In those days, the tracksuits were a little bit heavy. I just decided to invent my own tight shorts. I was the first goalkeeper to wear shorts in the PSL and then the likes of Moeneeb Josephs started wearing them as well. I just felt the shorts were lighter and comfortable.
Who was your funniest coach?
We had Ted Dumitru, wearing his sunglasses on the training field. And we had Viktor Bondarenko with his loudspeaker and his “attack, attack, attack” approach. I was a bit lazy the one time at training and Bondarenko screamed, through the loudspeaker, “Ronnie, Ronnie, if you don’t want to play, I change you, I put Wendell (Robinson) in.” I started laughing and he didn’t like it. He then shouted, “Ronnie, out! Wendell, go that side!” Ha, ha, ha, it was really funny. Most of the time, he wouldn’t even go inside the pitch. He would just give instructions from the touchline. The other coach was Djalma Cavalcante, the Brazilian. He liked to tell stories. He was a very nice coach by the way. He used to tell us, “When you are a footballer, you are the most handsome guy. You are earning big money and the chicks are after you. Once your career is over, you are the ugliest guy.”
It’s an open secret that teams used muti back in those days…Did you guys also encounter such things?
As a team Mamelodi Sundowns never used muti, so I was lucky in that sense. I remember one time, shortly after joining the team, I was chatting to Kenny Niemach and I said to him, “I’m surprised you guys don’t use muti.” He said, “No, the guys use it individually.” I said, “I haven’t seen anything yet.” He said, “No, no, no, you’ll see.” Then we played a midweek Rothmans Cup game against Bloemfontein Celtic and in the dressing room before the game I saw a black shoe polish being distributed among the guys, Daniel Mudau being one of them. I didn’t know what it was and I thought, ag, it was a normal shoe polish that guys use to shine their boots. One of the guys said, “No, my brother, there’s something in there.” I remember Bennett Mnguni was a member of the ZCC church and we used to call him ‘Sheriff’. One time he gave Paul Dolezar the ZCC tea to drink and Dolezar came back complaining, ha, ha, ha. He said, “I don’t want that tea anymore. That’s sh*t tea!” I think he drank it and it was too powerful, if you know what I mean, ha, ha, ha!
Did you ever encounter any financial troubles at Sundowns?
Not really, but Sundowns still owe me a month’s salary. It was a misunderstanding just towards the end of the season. I didn’t even attend the club’s awards ceremony and I just got into my car and drove straight to Namibia. But we always got paid on time, except the one time when we were not happy about our Caf Champions League bonuses. We were beaten in the final in 2001 and I think the club was given R9 million. The agreement was that the money would be split into half between the club and the players, but I think I only got R15 000. The highest paid player probably got R50 000. I always knew that whatever John Tlale got, I got, but in this case that was different. The entire team was not happy. That was the lowest point of my career at Sundowns. After all the travelling and the conditions in Africa, we felt we didn’t get what we deserved.
Have you ever seen teammates fighting?
‘Mambush’ once slapped Charles Motlohi for refusing to take a penalty in a Rothmans Cup final against Kaizer Chiefs. I was also involved in an unfortunate incident at the training ground. It was a case of overreacting when I hit Simba Marumo. He was a nice guy and it’s just that I lost my cool. Maybe if I had taken one more second to think, I would have realised that hey, that’s Marumo! He wouldn’t hurt a fly. But there were no major incidents. We had a good bunch of guys.
According to reports, while you were caretaker coach at Black Africa back in Namibia, you once pulled out a gun and fired a shot into the air after fans threatened to beat you up for the team’s poor results!
Oh, ja! There was a group of three guys that was always on my case. My gun is always stored in my car. I was leaving the stadium and putting my bag in my car when five guys came towards me and started behaving in an unbecoming manner. They were a bit aggressive, so I grabbed one of them by the hand, pulled out the gun and shot into the air. I knew exactly what I was doing. The media always talks about it, but to me it’s a minor issue. It’s not like I pointed the gun at someone! I just wanted to teach them a lesson. Eventually we became friends, he came to me and apologised, and I apologised.
Best player you’ve ever faced: Too many to mention
Best player you’ve played with: Roger Feutmba
Your biggest pay cheque: N$40 000
Your smallest pay cheque: N$12 000
Former teams: Blue Waters FC (Namibia), Mamelodi Sundowns