Lucas Radebe has triumphed over almost insurmountable odds to become one of Gauteng’s greatest exports.
A gunshot victim who would not give up without a fight, he was shot while walking with his mother and sister in Diepkloof, Soweto. Fortunately for him, none of his vital organs were damaged. The bullet had entered his back and exited halfway down his thigh.
Radebe moved from that bad experience to become a recognised brand, well- known for his leadership qualities, insight and good understanding of football. He has strong tackling and man-to-man marking skills, and is said to be a calming influence on his team.
While still actively playing football, he captained three different teams – the South African national football team, the Kaizer Chiefs Football Club, as well as the English Premiership giants, Leeds United.
His attributes earned him nicknames – he was called "The Chief" by Yorkshire fans and “Rhoo” by the South African fans.
He was also appointed SA Tourism’s 2010 Ambassador to the World. The aim of this position was to excite the then doubtful international tourists coming to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
An all-rounder is born
A move by his parents to send him to one of the former homelands,Bophuthatswana, as a way to keep him safe from the violent neighbourhood of Diepkloof Zone Four in Soweto ignited Lucas’s professional football career. He joined the ICL Birds in the now-defunct Bophuthatswana Soccer League and was spotted by talent scouts who recruited him to the Kaizer Chiefs.
The only position in the field of play that Lucas has not played is that of striker or referee. The tall and thin footballer started his career as a goalkeeper and then switched positions to central midfielder and central defence. Die-hard Kaizer Chiefs fans still remember his acrobatic scissor kicks and diving headers.
The ever-persevering Radebe battled with a knee injury prior to the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, hosted in South Africa, but still managed to convince the then coach of the national team, Clive Barker, to include him in his team.
The memories of his excellent play when South Africa took on Ghana will never be erased. He silenced the Ghanaian superstar, Tony Yeboah and helped his country win 3-0.
Destined for prominence
In 1994, Radebe was sold to Leeds for ₤250 000 (nearly R3-million). However, he was only included in the deal with the aim of keeping fellow South African Philemon “Chippa” Masinga happy in his new team and country.
His career did not get off to a smooth start. He battled with injuries and a troubled relationship with the then manger for Leeds United, Howard Wilkinson who was fired in 1998. George Graham took over the reins and gave “The Chief” a chance to shine.
Four years after joining the English Graham made Radebe captain of the team and he moved from being a bench-warmer to playing regularly.
Leeds soared under his captainship and the team’s position on the league improved. In the first year, they finished fourth in the league during the 1998/99 season. But nothing could stop Leeds and in the 1999/2000 season; they finished third on the log and qualified for the lucrative UEFA Champions League. The Yorkshire club made it through to the semi-finals of the competition.