By Rob Atkinson
When Nelson Mandela says of someone "This is my hero", you tend to sit up and take notice. Mandela himself is a hero to millions, an iconic figure in the global politics of the last century, a man who stood up to be counted against some of the most vile and disgusting manifestations of hatred and prejudice seen outside of Nazi Germany. This is not someone whose opinion you would lightly toss aside; the man commands serious attention. And when a hero like Mandela has a hero, then you know that person will not just be any Tom, Dick or Harry. The hero in question is, of course, our own Lucas Radebe, erstwhile centre-half, club & national skipper, football ambassador and now the latest in a long line of people to be associated with moves to acquire Leeds United - or at least a significant stake in the club.
Rumours of takeover bids, prominently mentioning Radebe's name, began to circulate last week. The reaction among the massive online presence of Leeds United supporters was almost unanimously ecstatic - and immediately an important new pressure group came into existence. Make no mistake, this is not a factor that United's current owners will be able simply to dismiss. This is not, after all, some faceless syndicate with shadowy figures behind it, making vague and unsubstantiated promises. This is a contemporary Leeds United hero, possibly the most adored single figure of the post-Revie era at Elland Road. Radebe is accorded God-like status among Leeds United fans, for his performances on the field in over 200 appearances for the club, for his multi-megawatt smile and irresistibly engaging personality - and maybe most of all for sticking by the club when there was multi-million pound interest from Man U. AC Milan and AS Roma were also said to be interested - as Alex Ferguson, in one of his more lucid moments remarked, "Everyone should be interested in Lucas". Everyone was, and any Leeds fan with a long enough memory still is.
It is this iconic status and immense popularity that makes Lucas Radebe THE name for any group or consortium to identify as its dream-ticket front-man of choice. Get Lucas on board, and such a consortium or group will automatically have the good wishes and trust of anyone with the interests of Leeds United AFC at heart. The trust issue is especially important - Radebe is a man whom we can all readily accept loves Leeds United; one whom we will all totally believe has the best interests of the club at heart. He's plainly no fool either, having mixed with world leaders and rubbed shoulders with the great and the good of the world's favourite game. If Radebe endorses a consortium, then that group will be imbued with a credibility that arises directly from such an endorsement. The guy is virtually a one-man due diligence process. This is what GFH have to deal with and, if possible, work with for the betterment of Leeds United going forward. Even though an initial offer for a majority stake has been dismissed as "derisory", the current owners have been careful not to aim any of that derision at Lucas himself. They would be very unwise to do so - it would be a little like the Indian cricket authorities dismissing Sachin Tendulkar as an irritating inconvenience.
Lucas Radebe, once confirmed as an interested party, demands to be taken seriously and recognised as someone who would be a distinct asset to the club if he is able to show that the financial pre-requisites are in place. The timing of his announcement this week, via his own personal website, that he is indeed part of current moves to buy into Leeds, could hardly have been more immaculately perfect. That initial outbreak of enthusiasm among the support at the mere rumour of Lucas wanting to buy in was dwarfed by the overwhelming volume of eagerness and desire to see
The Chief get involved, now that he has said that, yes, he wants to. This is a rip-tide that will be more than usually difficult to turn, and GFH may well feel that, ultimately, they have no choice but to swim with it.
Already, there are suggestions that manager Brian McDermott will have cash to spend in the forthcoming transfer window. This has happened before, of course, and we have still ended up disappointed. But can the current principals afford to let us down again, with Lucas waiting in the wings? A few months ago, we were cavorting in the streets at the thought of a £1 million signing - a transfer barrier that was first breached 34 years ago. With Financial Fair Play in the offing, Leeds are one of the very few clubs not to have made a loss over recent accounting periods - most other clubs, especially those with promotion ambitions, have incurred the losses allowable under FFP, or even exceeded those limits, in the interests of recruiting the kind of quality that can get a team into the Premier League. Signings of £3m or £4m are not unknown in the upper echelons of the Championship - struggling Blackburn splashed £8m on Jordan Rhodes, for crying out loud. But Leeds United have, as yet, shown no sign of matching anything like that level of ambition. Could the prospect of Radebe's involvement prompt a loosening of the tightly-knotted GFH purse-strings? With The Chief's name being bandied about and his own interest confirmed, can GFH really afford another bleak and frustrating transfer window - when everybody is all too well aware of the obvious gaps in the squad as well as the possibility of inward investment from such an attractive source?
We are given to understand that Leeds are awaiting a second offer from the Radebe-backed consortium. It will be interesting to see what the reception would be to a bid that was less "derisory". Maybe it is more likely that some way of working together can be found, rather than a majority buy-out. But the current owners can't simply laugh this one off, and neither can they stand around with their hands in their pockets when crunch-time comes and Brian states his transfer requirements. The latitude for such shilly-shallying is rapidly disappearing, and that is largely because of the gloriously possible return home to Leeds of Nelson Mandela's hero.