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Payback time for ‘Chief’ Radebe

Even when leading South Africa and Leeds United, if Lucas Radebe was told that the World Cup would one day come home, he would perhaps have smiled and moved on. But then, dreams have a way of coming true for the man they still refer to as ‘The Chief’ at Elland Road, five years after a starlit testimonial at Leeds, reports Dhiman Sarkar.

sports Updated: Jul 01, 2010 00:20 IST
Dhiman Sarkar

Even when leading South Africa and Leeds United, if Lucas Radebe was told that the World Cup would one day come home, he would perhaps have smiled and moved on. But then, dreams have a way of coming true for the man they still refer to as ‘The Chief’ at Elland Road, five years after a starlit testimonial at Leeds.

Growing up in Diepkloof Zone Four in Soweto near Johannesburg, Radebe said football was the only way out of an area where often the air was heavy with the sound of gunshots. One of 11 children, Radebe, 41, too was shot while on a shopping trip with his mother and sister. That was in 1991, two years after Kaizer Chiefs, one of South

Africa’s top clubs, signed him.

The bullet entered his back and went out through the thigh. Miraculously, there was no permanent damage that could ruin his fledgling football career. “I grew up in an area with limited resources but where football had made an impact. I was able to use football to improve my life,” Radebe said.

And so, it’s payback time now. “It’s about seeing if you can help create a better environment for the coming generations,” said Radebe, now an ambassador for

FIFA’s Football For Hope programme, which tries to improve lives of disadvantaged people through football.

Radebe said the World Cup is a great opportunity to touch the lives of people who struggle with the business of living. “The World Cup can have an uplifting effect on our society. It gives us a chance to improve.”

It can help South Africa grow as a football nation too. “It was great that South Africa beat France but the World Cup’s not about one game. It’s about forging the future and raising the level. Hopefully, the World Cup will help us do that.

Radebe batted for local coaches but accepted that Milovan Rajevac has worked wonders for Ghana. “It’s not about whether the coach is local but whether he knows his job. Clearly, Rajevac’s done a good job. I think what’s important is that a foreign coach must make the effort to understand the culture of a country and the mentality of its people.”

After 200 appearances in 11 years with Leeds United, Radebe said England’s exit was a huge disappointment. “You need to be able to adapt in a World Cup and I don’t think England did. This team didn’t do justice to its potential. That said, they have great players and one of the best leagues in the world. I know how important football is to the people in England, how passionate they are about the game and can understand how disappointed they are now.”

He refused to weigh in on FIFA about the need to use technology, saying it would disrupt the game. “I don’t think cameras would help because often TV presents a different picture. Also, referees are human.”

The interview couldn’t end without asking Radebe his favourite for the World Cup. “Spain. They have improved from the Confederations Cup. The flair they have, their depth in the squad makes Spain my favourite.”