Born: 12 April 1969 in Diepkloof (Soweto), South Africa
Nationality: South African
Nickname: “The Chief”
Clubs: 1990-1994: Kaizer Chiefs (113 matches, 5 goals). 1994-2005: Leeds United (200 matches, 2 goals).
Honours: 1991 and 1992: South African league championship winner. 1996: Africa Cup of Nations winner. 1998: took part in the FIFA World Cup™. 2000: FIFA Fair Play Award winner. 2002: took part in the FIFA World Cup™. 70 caps and 2 goals for South Africa.
Miscellaneous: married and father of two children.
Lucas Radebe – The Smile Of The Chief
For many years, Lucas Radebe was South Africa’s most famous footballer and captain of the national team. Now 39 years old, he is a highly successful corporate ambassador in his home country.
Traverse any major thoroughfare in metropolitan South Africa and you are bound to be confronted with the smiling image of Lucas Radebe. The former Bafana Bafana captain is ironically more of an icon since he hung up his playing boots than he ever was during his illustrious career. Radebe, who has just turned 39, has become a highly successful corporate ambassador, linked to six different companies who use him to promote their products.
Need a credit card? Radebe will show you the bank with the best deal. Seeking a good health plan and medical insurance policy? Lucas knows the people with the right package. And, of course, do not forget to give your teeth a polish at least three times a day … just as Radebe does.
His venture into the business world and the growing demands on his star profile mean that Radebe needs to be as agile as he was when defending for his national team, English giants Leeds United and Kaizer Chiefs. And while he is itching to get back into the game, Radebe finds himself in a vortex of corporate activity as an excited South Africa looks forward to hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finals. “I grew up in a sporting family and I learnt very early on to love the game, but I had no idea where it would take me,” he says.
Radebe captained South Africa at two World Cups™, spent ten seasons at Leeds United in England and was named winner of the FIFA Fair Play Award in 2000. Persistent knee injuries meant premature retirement, but not before he had become South Africa’s most capped international. But even if he is no longer playing, his image is omnipresent and he remains one of the heroes of the South African game.
Radebe’s days are now taken up with corporate appearances, advertising shoots and business meetings. “Football is such a short career, it is important to ensure that life afterwards also allows you to live well.” But now more than ever, Radebe continues his charity work, which is why he won the FIFA award eight years ago. “I a Ways wanted to give back to the community; my dream is to see the game back in the schools in the townships. That’s where I started and I want more to have the chances that I was given … I feel footballers now carry a lot of responsibility.”
Radebe has come along way from the dusty streets of Soweto, where he grew up amid the violence of the apartheid regime. As a teenager he was shot as police confronted demonstrating youths but recovered. His parents eventually sent him out of Soweto to the sedate rural setting of Zeerust, where his talent for football became evident. Although he first played as a goalkeeper and even won national honours between the sticks at amateur level, it was as midfielder that he was first spotted, thus paving the way for his return to Soweto in 1990 to join the fabled Kaizer Chiefs.
A BORN LEADER
Three years later, while playing for South Africa in Australia, he was spotted by Leeds United. The English club had originally sent a scout out to watch Phil Masinga, the giant Bafana Bafana forward, but were so impressed with Radebe that they bought both players. Radebe cost GBP 250,000, still regarded as one of the best buys to date by Leeds.
The move to Britain proved the making of Radebe, bringing out his leadership qualities and giving him the confidence he needed to vastly improve his game. But he most needed courage and resolve to overcome a serious knee injury early on during his stay at Elland Road, which kept him out of the game for 13 months.
He only just made it back in time to help South Africa win the 1996 Africa Nations Cup and play for Leeds in the English League Cup final. After manager George Graham converted him from midfield to centre back, Radebe’s qualities became more evident and as the seasons progressed he was made captain of the club, the first African to skipper a team in the English Premier League.
“You need a bit of luck to get those opportunities,” he reflects, “but you also have to work for it; you have to work for your achievements and make sure that you succeed. It doesn’t come easy. You know, there is a lot of commitment and sacrifice that is needed. To be respected in Britain you have to be really, really strong, both mentally and physically. South African people are strong naturally. I got a lot of inspiration from that. It is a question of how you show it, in the way you play. Mentally and physically, no doubt about it, you have to show your skills when you get the chance.”
At Leeds, he was respectfully called “The Chief”, a reference to his leadership role and his African heritage. Radebe still keeps a house in the Yorkshire city and commutes with his family, but his endorsement deals mean he spends much more time in South Africa these days.
“To be honest I never thought I’d reach this level. I never thought I’d play for Leeds, I never thought I’d play professional football. I never thought I’d play for Kaizer Chiefs. I believe that if you have got talent, follow it and do the best you can and something will come up for you to do. I never really followed someone else’s trail; I just always followed where my heart and my head channelled me,” adds Radebe.
He still wants to get involved with coaching and management but admits his life is not controlled by some master plan for his future. “Nah, no! I’m just too relaxed! I don’t even take myself too seriously. This is life; you’ve got to enjoy yourself. Live today like it’s the last day,” he laughs.