South Africa captain Lucas Radebe will make a record 70th and last international
South Africa captain Lucas Radebe will make a record 70th and last international appearance for his country against England in Durban on Thursday, a fitting swansong for the man known simply as the 'Chief'...
South Africa v England
International Friendly, Durban
Thursday 22nd May, 19.30
Before the South African Football Association (Safa) decided on Sunday to temporarily replace national team coach Ephraim Mashaba with his predecessor Jomo Sono, Lucas Radebe had appeared to have played his last game for Bafana Bafan.
"I have spoken to the Safa chief operations officer (Albert Mokoena) and explained that those players (Charlton Athletic's Shaun Bartlett, Manchester United's Quinton Fortune and Radebe) have been given enough chance by myself and the technical staff," explained Mashaba when announcing his squad to play a friendly against Jamaica in March.
"I'm no longer going to call them up for any game until I get some recommendations from the Safa national executive committee. That includes the big game against England in May. We were informed that Lucas was not going to attend the camp because of the Cricket World Cup opening ceremony."
And when the coach named his 22-man squad to face England last Thursday, he kept to his word and left out all of his English-based players after a series of disagreements over their availability for the game with the Reggae Boyz and an African Cup of Nations qualifier against Burundi last October.
Since the Leeds United skipper had announced his intention to retire from international football after the England match, it looked as though he would be denied the opportunity of a fitting finale on home soil against the country where he has lived and played his football ever since Howard Wilkinson bought him from the Kaiser Chiefs in September 1994.
"I have played for ten years for South Africa. I think I have done not enough, but as much as I can. I think now it's crucial for me that I focus more on my club than the national team," he said when announcing his decision at Elland Road in April.
But following the Safa's u-turn, Radebe will now line up alongside Bartlett and Fortune, possibly against club-mates Danny Mills and Paul Robinson, as the sole African survivor to have started a match the last time these two teams met at Old Trafford on 24 May 1997, the very first international played between the two countries.
"I played at Old Trafford where we lost 2-1 and I think we were unlucky to lose that one," said Radebe of that encounter last week.
"It is a historic moment for South Africa to play against England, especially in Durban where there is a great support and what I think is going to be a great evening of football."
Somehow it would not have seemed right for the country to have played the inaugural fixture against England in South Africa without their 34-year-old record caps holder and skipper, the man who led them into their first two World Cups (1998 and 2002) having come out of the international wilderness eleven years ago, captained them to African Cup of Nations glory on home soil in 1996 and is the most recognisable face of South African football.
Indeed Radebe has been with Bafana Bafan for virtually every step they have taken since FIFA lifted a ban on the country in 1992 and readmitted them to international football following the apartheid era, a ban that had lasted for three decades. So much so that in February he was one of 40 African sporting greats to be invited to the opening ceremony of the Cricket World Cup as ambassadors of the tournament.
Conversely, it would have been strange for England to be facing a South Africa side without their Leeds stopper at the heart of the defence, the man who has played 183 Premiership games for the club and 244 in total during a spell that has seen the Yorkshire side move from being within 90 minutes of a place in the European Cup final one season, to within 180 minutes of a place in the Nationwide First Division this campaign.
Thursday will definitely, according to the 'Chief', be the final time he represents his country, almost a year after he last played for them in a 2-2 draw against Spain in Daejeon, a match in which he scored only his second-ever goal for South Africa.
And Radebe is grateful that his international career will not be petering out amid a crossfire of angry exchanges between himself and Leeds on one continent and Mashaba and the Safa on another in a club-versus-country row that had threatened to leave a bad taste in everyone's mouths.
Radebe has sweated blood for both club and country, playing through excruciating pain barriers as a result of several serious knee injuries, making 72-hour round trips to play in Africa, while always trying to please both his employers and his countrymen.
Before he led his country out to play Paraguay in their opening World Cup game last June, he had not played a match since January 2001, demonstrating just how important he is to the national team.
He is also widely acknowledged as being one of the friendliest and most approachable footballers in the game, which maybe has something to do with his upbringing in Soweto, where as a 15-year-old he served on one of the disciplinary committees established to replace the banished police force. Once, while driving his car, he was shot, although the defender claims that he "was lucky as the bullet didn't touch any bones."
The 'Chief' will play for one more year at Elland Road before calling it a day, something his body has been telling him to do for some time now, and would be a great asset to Danny Jordaan, the man charged with bringing the 2010 World Cup finals to South Africa, who could surely make use in an ambassadorial role of South Africa's most successful and enduring footballer.
by Richard Morgan
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