Born in April 1969 in Soweto Lucas Radebe went on to be one of Mzansi’s biggest and most legendary footballers.
Nicknamed ‘Rhoo’, he started his early career playing for local club Diepkloof Wanderers before moving to ICL Birds, which is where he was then scouted by Patrick ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe, who was a Kaizer Chiefs junior coach.
Ntsoelengoe recruited Radebe in 1989 to join Chiefs and interestingly, most people don’t know is that the latter began as a goalkeeper at Chiefs before being moved to centre back.
Between 1989 and 1994, Radebe played for Chiefs winning the then National Soccer League three seasons in a row, winning the top eight trophy four times in a row and other cups.
In 1992, Radebe was part of the first ever national team squad after South Africa’s re-admission to international football by FIFA after almost 20 years of being banned due to the apartheid regime in the country.
In 1994 English Premier League side Leeds United desperately wanted to sign South African striker Philemon Masinga from Mamelodi Sundowns and Masinga said he would only agree to go to Leeds on condition that they also take his national teammate Lucas Radebe as he wanted to have someone close to him in England and believed Radebe was one of the best centre backs in Mzansi at the time.
Leeds United acceded to the rest, but the funny part is that Masinga later left the club and left Radebe at Elland Road.
Radebe would struggle at the beginning at Leeds United having been out of the team with injuries giving him a tough time and initial disagreements with coach Howard Wilkinson made it worse. Wilkinson would leave the club with George Graham taking over the club which swung things in Radebe’s favour as he became a regular first team player at centre back.
In 1996 Radebe was part of the Bafana Bafana squad that made history and won the Afcon on home soil.
Radebe was made captain of the Leeds United first team in 1998 and had a great spell leading the team to a top four finish in the English Premier League qualifying for the UEFA Cup. In the same year the man who was now known as ‘Rhoo’ was part of South Africa’s first ever World Cup campaign in France where he played as a centre back for his country as SA got knocked out in the group stages of the competition.
In AFCON 1998 he was part of the team led by coach Jomo Sono that almost defended the title finishing second in the tournament after losing 2-0 to Egypt in the decider.
In 1999-2000 Leeds continued their rise finishing third in the Premier League qualifying for the UEFA champions League where the Yorkshire side finished in the semi finals of the competition. It is in this period where he was nicknamed ‘The Chief’ and was a wanted man in Europe with clubs like AC Milan, AS Roma and Manchester United wanting his services but he remained loyal to Leeds United.
He has been quoted a few times saying even though a move to Manchester United would’ve been a dream move but the rivalry between Leeds and Man United was so fierce at the time so he couldn’t betray Leeds. Radebe also played in the 2000 AFCON where South Africa finished as the third best team in the tournament.
In 2000 ‘The Chief’ sustained serious injuries that took him out for almost two years before coming back to participate in the 2002 World Cup as captain of SA. He scored an equalising goal for Bafana Bafana against Spain in a game that South Africa lost 3-2 when they needed only a draw to make it to the next round of the competition. A year later in 2003 Radebe retired from international football after playing 70 games for the national, scoring twice.
At Leeds United the legend struggled for game time between 2003-2005 before deciding to close the curtains on his career with the club.
Radebe played a total of 256 games for Leeds United across all competitions but never scored a league goal for them in the Premier League (197 appearances in the League). Overall in his whole career the defender played 354 games scoring 5 club career goals.
Leeds held a farewell ceremonial match for ‘Rhoo’ in May 2005 that was attended by 37 000 spectators to show the magnitude of his following there.
He is regarded as one of the best players to have ever played for Leeds United and even has a stand in the stadium named after him. Many people from Leeds even named their children after him even with street names in the city named after him. Radebe is a true legend of the game and FARPost salutes him.
DID YOU KNOW?
Lucas Radebe Junior, who’s 20 years old, plays for Farsley Celtic in the UK’s National North League. Unlike his father, Lucas Junior plays upfront.
By Prince Sobayeni