Lucas Radebe on current state of football

'Africa Cup of Nations champions was one of the best moments of my life'

09 April 2024 - 11:28
By Emmanuel Tjiya
South African football legend Lucas Radebe.
Image: Aart Verrips South African football legend Lucas Radebe.

In his own words, Rhoo takes us through 30 years of SA soccer.

1994: Leeds United transfer

A lot had happened, [with me] not realising that I would have such a life-changing opportunity to travel abroad for the first time and enhance my career. Before that, football was never a career or a job. Playing for Kaizer Chiefs since 1990 and then a breakthrough coming through Leeds was absolutely amazing.It changed not only my life but also the game. We [Radebe and the late Philemon Masinga] took that opportunity to another level. We realised we were stepping into the limelight not just for us but for everyone who couldn’t get that opportunity to be recognised internationally.

1996: Africa Cup of Nations champions

That was one of the best moments of my life. A historic moment for our football. Early into democracy, it was important that we made impact, first on home soil and then on the international stage.Another highlight was hosting the entire continent in our backyard. To see how the countries came together was amazing, and in 1995 we had won the Rugby World Cup.

The victories kept coming. We were never under pressure; I believed the Madiba magic was working. We felt invincible and could have beaten anybody at that time. We had big games and played Brazil prior to that. The vibe and atmosphere was amazing. It was the South Africa we had been longing for, for a long time.

Image: Aart Verrips

1998-2002: Bafana Bafana captain

Now the pressure was on as captain of Bafana Bafana at the Fifa World Cup. As a footballer or sports personality, once you take up your boots, you just want to reach for the top and be the one who makes an impact. That was the inspiration — we wanted to play at the highest level and play against the best in the world. Playing the World Cup — it doesn’t get better than that. It was once again great representation, not just for South Africa but also for Africa.

There were only five teams from Africa, and we were one of them. We qualified, we didn’t go through the back door, meaning we had earned to be there. Maybe the team wasn’t as formidable as in 1996, obviously with age we were falling away. But it was great to see the youngsters coming up, like Benni McCarthy and Quinton Fortune.

2010: Phillip is here!

That was colourful. You could feel the pride in the air. We were so proud to be the hosts and welcome the world to Africa [for the 2010 Fifa World Cup]. It wasn’t just about football; it was about the tradition and culture.It’s those kinds of stories you can sit and tell your grandkids. It demonstrated how far we had come. To have achieved that showed the character of the people.

Image: Aart Verrips

2024: The state of soccer

We could have done better, having hosted such great sporting events. That should have taken our game to the next level and the disappointment is that we didn’t take advantage or use that as a stepping stone to improve our football.We need to bring the youth in to play a role.

We are supposed to be a reference for the youngsters on what football is like. It feels like the current players don’t look back and take pride in what we have achieved through the game, so that they can see themselves rewriting history.

The future: Primo’s dad

These days I’m called Primo’s dad [his son is a well-known social-media content creator] and I’m like, “I have a name too.” First of all, content creation is hard work. I’d been pushing him to get university training and then this happened. But this is the future; technology has evolved.

Image: Aart Verrips

Collaborations with big brands have become massive and that’s why I have partnered with Lay’s, known for being part of the Uefa. It’s encouraging and inspirational to see.Primo is amazing. To see him at that level and do it with such passion, it’s great. I’m trying to catch up.

He’s funny because it runs in the family, we have moments.

Image: Aart Verrips