FT Legends Series: Lucas Radebe, "The Chief" who became Nelson Mandela's hero

Preamble

The English premier league is known for its reputation of attracting some of the world’s best imports like Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry, who have grabbed headlines for their displays during their footballing careers. However most attention seems to go to non-African players who impacted the league yet surprisingly there are African stalwarts who also took the league by its horn at some point. These include South African legend, Lucas Radebe famously known as “Rhoo” who plied his trade for then English premier league team, Leeds United. So who is Lucas Radebe one may ask?

In recognition of his leadership and abilities, Radebe was appointed captain of the team for the 1998/99 season, leading his team to fourth position while qualifying for the UEFA Cup in the process. This was perhaps the twilight of “Rhoo’s” ridiculously amazing career.
— Siphosethu Thwala, FirstTouch Africa

The beginning

Lucas Radebe is a South African born retired footballer from the famous township of Soweto in Johannesburg. His footballing days began when he was signed by Kaizer Chiefs ironically as a midfielder before he switched positions and became a defender. During his time with “Amakhosi”, the lanky defender marshalled his defence with great aplomb and led Chiefs to league and cup glory between his 1989-1994 stay with the club.

Christian Karembeu and Lucas Radebe attend the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 at the Kongresshaus on January 11, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Jan. 10, 2016 - Source: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images Europe)

Christian Karembeu and Lucas Radebe attend the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2015 at the Kongresshaus on January 11, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland.

(Jan. 10, 2016 - Source: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images Europe)

Nelson Mandela’s hero

While at Chiefs, Radebe endured one of the darkest moments in his life when he was shot while walking down the streets of the crime-prone Johannesburg. He nonetheless survived and as such it is said that this incident triggered his decision to jump ship and move to England to join Leeds United in 1994. Radebe quickly became a pivotal player in the Leeds team so much that he earned a nickname “The Chief” from the team’s fans. This was partly due to his previous club but equally because of his impressive skills in defence. In recognition of his leadership and abilities, Radebe was appointed captain of the team for the 1998/99 season, leading his team to fourth position while qualifying for the UEFA Cup in the process. This was perhaps the twilight of “Rhoo’s” ridiculously amazing career. Oh and mind you, Radebe had a rare encounter with South African icon Nelson Mandela who visited Radebe and his team Leeds United. During his visit, Mandela alluded that Radebe “is my hero”, a befitting recognition for a man who broke boundaries and showed the rest of South Africa (and the African continent at large) that nothing is impossible. Sadly, in 2000, Radebe sustained knee and ankle injuries, which kept him out of the game for almost two years. At the end of the 2005 season, Lucas retired from professional football and got quite the perfect send off as his testimonial match comprised of many star players.

Lucas Radebe attends the After Match Dinner of "Match against Poverty" at the Restaurant "Das weisse Haus" on December 13, 2011 in Hamburg, Germany.  (Dec. 12, 2011 - Source: Christian Augustin/Getty Images Europe)

Lucas Radebe attends the After Match Dinner of "Match against Poverty" at the Restaurant "Das weisse Haus" on December 13, 2011 in Hamburg, Germany.

(Dec. 12, 2011 - Source: Christian Augustin/Getty Images Europe)

“The Chief”, an honorable man

Internationally, Radebe was capped 70 times by Bafana Bafana with his last match coming against England on the 22nd of May 2003. For his leadership efforts, Radebe was named FIFA ambassador for SOS Children’s Villages and also received the FIFA Fair Play Award in December 2000 for his contribution in the fight against racism in soccer.

In ways more than one, Radebe is a true epitome of humble beginnings. From lining up for one of the biggest teams in South Africa to playing for one of the biggest English teams during his time, to captaining his national team at two FIFA World Cups as well as leading Bafana Bafana to its one and only Africa Cup of Nations triumph, “The Chief” surely experienced it all. To this day, Radebe is still a football darling in South Africa as well as at his former club Leeds. His humility off the pitch added the cherry on top to Radebe’s outstanding career, if you ask me he was the perfect football professional. Coupled with his trademark smile, “The Chief” will surely be remembered as one of the finest imports to ever grace the South African and English Premier League. While remembering the international greats who have graced the premier league, be sure not to sleep on legends like Radebe who also deserve recognition for their sterling showings during their time in world football.