If there was ever a Namibian football player with the Midas touch, that would be former Orlando Pirates and African Stars free-scoring midfield star Riaan Cloete.
Born and raised in Windhoek, Cloete started his football journey at AI Steenkamp Primary School at Katutura before he joined David Bezuidenhout Secondary School in Khomasdal, where he won the league and several cup competitions.
“It was during my time at David Bezuidenhout that I really started to shine as a footballer, and I didn’t allow my small size to deter me.
“I was literally dictating the game in the centre of the park for my school team,” he says.
“I was excited when I was called up for the national under-17 team with whom I played at a regional under-17 tournament in Malawi.
“We also bowed out to Cameroon during the qualifiers of the African Youth Nations Cup 6-2 on aggregate after winning 2-1 in Windhoek.”
The stocky striker was promoted to the under-20 side, which was coached by the late Lucky ‘Bazooka’ Richter, who was also his development coach at the Soccer Coaching Clinic in Khomasdal, and he also played for the under-23 side.
The under-23s were first coached by the late Seth ‘Orlando Boois’ before Cloete was promoted to the senior national team.
“My fondest memory with the under-23s is when we defeated Swaziland over two legs, and we also had our battles against the South African Olympic team.
“Former Orlando Pirates and SuperSport United star Daine Klate was their key player at the time,” he says.
Known for his skills and hard work, Cloete made his debut for Brave Warriors under coach Max ‘Zoda Five’ Johnson against Lesotho, and was also part of the national team that participated in the Cosafa Cup in Zambia under coach Ricardo ‘Bucksy’ Mannetti.
He also played against Bafana Bafana and Swaziland.
The former Orlando Pirates star says the way he joined Pirates was “funny”.
“It was in 2000 and Pirates trained at the Moses van der Byl Primary School sport grounds in Soweto.
“They had trials for new players, and I was not really supposed to attend the trials on the day, but after I saw some of the boys trying their luck I got inspired as well,” he says.
“I asked one of my friends if I could use his soccer boots, and he was just too willing. I only went onto the field to enjoy myself.
“I must have really made an impression, because one of their former star players, Mabos ‘Vialli’ Ortman, asked their team management to sign me.”
Cloete went on to become the mainstay of the Pirates engine room in his playmaker position, or sometimes just behind the striker when they played with a lone striker, as he seemed to score goals at will.
His eight-year alliance with the Katutura Buccaneers was rewarded with two NFA Cup wins, one a 2-1 triumph over Tigers at Rundu, with the other one courtesy of a 1-0 win over Civics at the Indpendence Stadium in Windhoek under Brian Isaacs.
Pirates also delivered a Nambian Premier League title for Cloete, who says winning a league for the first time was “definitely a dream come true”.
Cloete, however, found himself out in the cold after he sustained a serious knee injury in 2013.
“I didn’t really see it coming, but I found myself out in the cold when I didn’t play for one whole season and the Pirates management decided to release me from my contract.
“I then joined Hotspurs in the Khomas First Division, which was not so competitive.
“I could not believe it when coach Ali Akhan, who was just newly appointed by African Stars, asked the management to sign me.
“The Stars’ management was a little skeptical at the time because they knew I was injured, but the coach convinced them in the end.”
What was only supposed to be a six-month contract with the Samba Boys went on to become a six-year union, and Cloete rewarded the faith his new club had in him with solid performances in midfield alongside Rudi Louw and Jamu Ngatjizeko.
He won two Bidvest cups and a Standard Bank Super Cup, while adding another league championship trophy to his haul of medals in 2015.
He also speaks fondly about 2013, which was his first year at Stars during which he also won the coveted MTC NPL Player of the Season as well as African Stars Player of the Season awards.
HE considers the premier league encounter between Orlando Pirates and African Stars, during which he scored four goals to help secure Pirates a 6-1 win, and another league encounter when he scored a hat-trick against the same Stars, as his two most memorable matches.
Cloete, who is currently unemployed, has two daughters and is living on a farm with his parents in the Dordabis district.
“Being unemployed is not easy at all, but such is life, and one has to appreciate what life is giving you.
“When we played football, the money we received from the teams was not enough, but it was enough to sustain your day-to-day life.
“I think I should have put a little aside for life after football. Life has become very expensive in our country, and I just wished I was still active today, because the money the players earn now is much better.”
He says his father, Steve Hanse, has been his biggest influence during his football career.
Cloete urges players to be disciplined at all times and to work hard, “because you will never get far without discipline”.
He says they should stay away from alcohol and drug abuse, “because those two demons are finishing our youth today”.