THIRTEEN YEARS have passed club legend Lucas Radebe’s final appearance for Leeds United.
The South African star’s final outing for the Whites came in May 2005 in the season following relegation from the Premier League in which the centre-back starred.
A decade and a half later, Radebe is yearning for Leeds to return there and believes there is a “good chance” of promotion happening in 2018 based on the proviso that new head coach Marcelo Bielsa is given squad strength in depth.
Nowadays based back in Johannesburg where he was born, Radebe made a rare return to Elland Road for United’s 2018-19 season opener against title favourites Stoke City as one of several Leeds United greats gathered to pay their respects to former Leeds United legend Paul Madeley.
The performance against Stoke is one of which Madeley would have been proud and 13 years after his own last outing at Elland Road, Radebe was also highly impressed with what he saw.
“I had greasy palms all the time, I was on the edge of my seat the whole game,” laughed the 49-year-old former defender, clearly taken with the energy, work-rate and tempo of Bielsa’s new look Leeds.
It was brilliant for me being back after a long time, especially with the atmosphere. I think the players responded well to that.Lucas Radebe
United’s players, meanwhile, will also have been feeling the effects of the display with man-of-the-match Kemar Roofe struggling to catch his breath in a post-match interview – understandable given his superb efforts and relentless running on the pitch.
Aware of the rigours of a long and arduous season featuring 46 games even without cup competitions, it is in dealing with the demands of Bielsa’s high energy football and having a large enough squad to cope that Rabebe feels could determine whether or not Leeds finally return to the league in which he made his own name.
Assessing whether or not he had returned to Elland Road for the first game of what could turn out to be a promotion winning season, Radebe told the YEP: “We are hoping so and I think there’s a good chance.
“I think the depth is very important if you want to maintain that intensity and you want the success that we had against Stoke.
“Obviously, along the way there are going to be injuries and suspensions so it’s important that you keep a strong bench with the intention of taking this club back where it belongs and where it has been in the Premiership and hopefully playing in the Champions League again.
“It was brilliant for me being back after a long time, especially with the atmosphere. I think the players responded well to that.
“But I think you could see with the way the team set up with the new manager, you could see that the team is getting stronger and with a good formation.
“They looked well organised and they worked hard which is the most important thing.”
Another hard assignment now awaits Bielsa’s Leeds in the Argentinian head coach’s second game in charge tonight with United taking on another likely leading contender for promotion in Frank Lampard’s hosts Derby County.
Radebe will be among those present at Pride Park before he prepares to leave to return back home to Johannesburg and the former Whites defender says United’s opening day heroics against Stoke now need to be repeated on a game-by-game basis. That is the performance that they have got to maintain, they have got to work even harder in training and also for the new manager,” said Radebe.
“He will want to keep the consistency and not only the winning streak but playing well which I think is a big plus for this club.”
Just like Rabebe himself – who was one of the biggest pluses the club has ever seen, with ‘the Chief’ delighted to be back at Elland Road and thrilled with the rapport he has with the club’s fans 15 years after leaving.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” said Radebe.
“It’s like coming home and it’s like I’ve never left the club.
“It’s so rewarding when I look back to where we have been and where we are and my contribution towards the club being appreciated so much just makes it so very special.”