Ahead of Lucas Radebe's African Legends Cup of Nations First Round clash with Jay-Jay Okocha on Thursday, Mark Fish has paid tribute to his former Bafana Bafana teammate and Kaizer Chiefs legend.
The duo played together in South Africa's 1996 Africa Cup of Nations success as the team earned the nickname 'Madiba's Boys' due to their affiliation with Nelson Mandela, and despite being an Orlando Pirates great himself, Fish had no hesitation to heap significant praise on his former teammate.
“Lucas was a special player and it’s certainly because of his performances on the field. He was not a vocal person, he expressed himself on the football field and I think he gave everything to the game on and off the field,” Fish told Goal. “You will remember we started to get back to international in 1992 and four years later, you go to win the biggest tournament in the continent.
"Two years later, you go and reach the final and two years after that, you reach the semi-final."
Radebe also played in the World Cups of 1998 and 2002, although Fish believes that the '96 Nations Cup showing was the defender's finest hour.
“I would probably say that the 1996 glory is still the biggest highlight for us including him because of the standard that was set by him and all the other guys," Fish continued. "That’s what the generations that followed should be aiming for.”
After showing leadership qualities and immense talent for Amakhosi, Radebe was lured to England by domestic heavyweights Leeds United in 1994 together with the late Mamelodi Sundowns hitman Philemon ‘Chippa’ Masinga.
Few players have left such an indelible mark at one English club.
“First of all, he came from an era in playing for Kaizer Chiefs where it was not about the colour of your skin. In football these things didn’t matter at the time,” added the former Lazio defender. “We play the game no matter the colour of your skin, your race. You just got to play football and that is why he was celebrated in South Africa and in the United Kingdom because that’s what football is all about.
“He achieved a lot, playing for one club for 10 years is something special and it’s rare these days where you see a player staying with the same club for 10 years. That’s why he holds an icon status at Elland Road up to today."
Following their Afcon glory on home soil under ex-coach Clive Barker’s guidance, the former Jomo Cosmos joined Radebe and Masinga in England alongside goalkeeper Andre Arendse and Eric Tinkler, who joined Fulham and Barnsley respectively.
“Obviously that was a very big, massive opportunity for the three of us," Fish continued. "Obviously, some of the players were already in the PL, you mention Lucas and Phil, Shoes [John Moshoeu] and the other guys were playing in Turkey, so, this gave us a good opportunity.
"We don’t see that these days, I think football has changed in the past few years."
Both Fish and Radebe were part of the '96 Nations Cup winners who met with Mandela in the aftermath of that triumph, and were later labelled 'Nation Builders' for their role in uniting a country recently emerging from apartheid.
“It was an honour for both me and Lucas to be called [Madiba's Boys]," Fish noted. "We met [Mandela] a couple of times, as a team and as individuals. Certainly, I would say it was a highlight of our lives.
“I would also say it was a highlight of my football career on and off the field and I’m sure Lucas feels the same way too. Having the opportunity to meet Madiba and getting that honour to be called Madiba’s Boys…is something we must be proud of.
“That is simply because of what Madiba wanted for this country, his vision was for all of us to benefit and enjoy the fruits of his hard work," the former defender concluded. "I think we also had a chance to make an impact on Africa as a continent.
“We managed through football, whether you play or not, we managed to echo his words and everything he wanted for his country and the continent.”