The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: R - Lucas Radebe

The South African spent a decade in the Premier League with Leeds United.

The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: R - Lucas Radebe
Radebe was tough to beat in his prime (photo: Getty Images / Gary Prior)

For many Leeds United fans, the memories of their side playing in a Champions League semi-final seems a lifetime ago...and how they may wish they had a leader in the form of Lucas Radebe who was imperious at the heart of defence for a decade at Elland Road.

A tough start...

Yet the South African almost never made it to Yorkshire. During his time at Kaizer Chiefs in 1991, the young defender was shot in the back whilst out shopping in the town of Soweto. Remarkably, Radebe escaped without being critically hurt but the suspect has never been found. Rumours suggest he was hired to ensure Radebe did not leave Kaizer Chiefs.

Radebe played over 100 games for Kaizer Chiefs in a range of positions. He started out as a goalkeeper before moving into central midfield and then finally settling in defence. Yet three years after that unforgettable moment in Soweto, Radebe took the plunge and moved to Leeds United for £250,000.

However, the move to Howard Wilkinson's club went under the radar with the transfer of another South African, Philemon Masinga, considered more important to the club. The striker managed just five goals in 31 games across two seasons.

Radebe also found life in Yorkshire difficult with injuries preventing his progress and an argument with Wilkinson limiting his chances in the starting eleven.

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Flourishing under Graham and O'Leary...

However, Wilkinson was replaced by George Graham in 1997 and Radebe soon emerged as a regular starter for the club. Graham lasted just a year in charge but Radebe continued to be a key figure under David O'Leary and was made captain in the 1998-99 season.

The giant defender helped Leeds finish fourth in the Premier League and qualify for the UEFA Cup but that was not as good as it got for the Elland Road outfit. The following season, Leeds went one step further, ending the season third in the top-flight, whilst also reaching the UEFA Cup semi-finals, seeing off Roma along the way. Radebe kept Vincenzo Montella and Francesco Totti in his back pocket as Leeds kept clean sheets in both legs.

The European fairytale continued the following season, whilst Radebe was also awarded the FIFA Fair Play Award for his work supporting disadvantaged children and kicking racism out of football. Victories over AC Milan, Lazio and Deportivo La Coruna were the highlights of a Champions League campaign that saw Leeds reach the semi-finals before being knocked out by Valencia

Career cut short too soon

However, knee and ankle injuries soon caught up with the South African who made just 44 appearances in his final four seasons at the club. Radebe announced his retirement at the end of the 2004-05 season with 256 appearances for Leeds and 70 international caps that encompassed two World Cup experiences.

Since then, Radebe continues to be rewarded for his work on and off the pitch, earning the PFA Merit Award for his contribution to football in 2010. He has even had his own beer named after him, known as Radebeer.