Radebe tips Messi at Laureus
Lucas Radebe (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - With the Laureus Sports Awards
just three weeks away in Rio de Janeiro, debate over potential winners is a hot topic in sporting communities around the world, particularly in the Sportsman of the Year category. But for former Leeds United and Bafana Bafana skipper Lucas Radebe, there’s only one winner: Barcelona’s diminutive Argentinean maestro, Lionel Messi.
“I think it is an unbelievable achievement being crowned as the best in your sport for four consecutive years,” Radebe said ahead of the awards, set for March 11.
“The fact that he has been at the top of his sport consistently over that period is indicative of how good he actually is, especially when one considers the calibre of opposition that he has faced in winning these awards.”
Those FIFA Player of the Year awards suggest Messi is in with a good chance of seeing off the other five contenders for Sportsman of the Year
- Formula One star Sebastian Vettel, double Olympic gold medallist Mo Farah, Olympic great Michael Phelps, Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins, and sprint sensation Usain Bolt. But while Radebe would give the trophy to his fellow footballer, he’s not convinced that Messi has earned the accolade of ‘best ever’ just yet.
“I believe that he is the best in the world at the moment,” Radebe said.
“But given that players are competing in different eras of the game, it would be difficult to say whether he is the best ever. The other issue which I believe counts against him is that whilst he has been playing international football, Argentina have not reached the heights of success that, say, the Argentinean side under Maradona did, or the Brazilian side reached under Pele.”
Messi isn’t the only South American footballer in contention in Rio de Janeiro: in the Laureus Breakthrough
category, Neymar is one of the nominees, and the young Brazilian has caught Radebe’s eye.
“He is still young with lots of potential,” the South African enthused.
“But I believe one will only be able to assess how good he actually is when he goes and plays for one of the big teams in one of the big European leagues. When he is playing regular top flight competitive football, and playing in the Champions League for example, then one will see how good he is.”
Radebe also expressed admiration for a Spanish national side that followed up a 2010 Soccer World Cup win in South Africa with a European Championship title two years later.
“What makes this Spanish team so special is that they know how to win,” Radebe explained of a side nominated for the Laureus Team of the Year award.
“Part of this winning culture stems from the fact that most play for either Barca or Real Madrid who themselves are winners, so when one is used to winning it becomes a habit.”
The Laureus Awards take place in a country prepping for next year’s World Cup, a tournament many see as the game coming home - Radebe amongst them.
“Brazil is the self-proclaimed home of football, and having spent some time in Brazil in previous years, I know how passionate they are about their football. Football is more than a way of life for the Brazilians. It is everything. And when one adds in the sights and sounds of the country and the fantastic people, I believe we are in for a great World Cup, similar to that which we experienced in South Africa.”
And it’s not just the destination that Radebe is looking forward to; he’s also hopeful, in the wake of the recent Africa Cup of Nations, of a strong showing from African teams, including South Africa.
“Although Bafana did not progress to the semi-finals, I believe that we are on the right track, and the people need to be patient and supportive of the coach and the players he selects,” said Radebe.
“The Bafana players are all trying hard to represent their country to the best of their ability, but they need all the support they can get from the fans, and everyone needs to have a common goal and vision for our team, and that is to at least be the best in Africa, whereafter we can look to conquer the world. African football is definitely progressing, and I still believe that it won't be too long before one of the African countries becomes a real powerhouse in world football.”
Now heavily involved in philanthropic work around South Africa, the former Bafana captain also took time to salute Laureus, and the projects supported across the globe.
"Laureus does some amazing work in communities throughout the world. Sport has an amazing ability to bring the best out of people and unite them, giving them hope where often there was despair. Having grown up in Soweto and thereafter living abroad, an opportunity that my sport gave to me, I realise how important and powerful sport is, and how it can directly effect change in society. I’ve also attended the Laureus Awards
on a number of occasions, and it is an awesome event, rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s leading sportsmen and women, past, present and future. I will definitely be watching on television this year!”