Percy Tau

Kick Off - - Inside -

The South African star has taken the Bel­gian sec­ond-tier by storm, yet a num­ber of South Africans with ex­pe­ri­ence in the Euro­pean coun­try share their con­cerns over the for­ward’s cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

Af­ter tor­ment­ing both the Sey­chelles and Nige­rian de­fend­ers in re­cent African Na­tions Cup qual­i­fiers, the ques­tion on ev­ery lo­cal sup­porter’s lips was: what is a su­per-tal­ented and tech­ni­cally-gifted player like Percy Tau do­ing in the Bel­gium First Di­vi­sion? Is he not too good to be play­ing in that league? Zola Doda in­ves­ti­gates.

Percy Tau is sim­ply no or­di­nary player. Blessed with im­mac­u­late skill, de­cep­tive pace and the abil­ity to glide past de­fend­ers with ease, it took the silky for­ward just two sea­sons to take do­mes­tic foot­ball by storm.

Dur­ing his short stint in the PSL, the 24-year-old won the league ti­tle, Ned­bank Cup, CAF Cham­pi­ons League and CAF Su­per Cup with Mamelodi Sun­downs and was named PSL Foot­baller of the Sea­son last year, while also be­ing recog­nised for his ef­forts on the con­ti­nent af­ter re­ceiv­ing a nom­i­na­tion for the 2018 CAF Player of the Year award. And when he joined English Premier­ship side Brighton and Hove Al­bion on a four-yearcon­tract at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, the move was hailed as one of the best-achieved by a PSL player in re­cent history. But due to strict work per­mit rules which pro­hibits play­ers who have played less than 75 per cent of their na­tional team’s matches over the last two years from play­ing in Eng­land’s top-flight, what was meant to be a dream move has turned out to be a some­what anti-cli­max for Tau. In­stead of rub­bing shoul­ders with the giants of English foot­ball, Tau found him­self farmed out to Royale Union Saint-Gil­loise – a mid-ta­ble club in the Bel­gian sec­ond-tier.

“THE BEL­GIAN FIRST DI­VI­SION IS NOT VERY COM­PET­I­TIVE, AND MOST PLAY­ERS ARE AV­ER­AGE.”

Union Saint-Gil­loise is owned by busi­ness­man Tony Bloom, the same owner of Brighton and Hove, who hopes the for­mer Sun­downs ace will help the club get pro­moted to the Bel­gian top-flight. And while the move is de­signed to help the club, it has done very lit­tle to help Tau’s progress, ac­cord­ing to pun­dits. In the eight-team Bel­gium First Di­vi­sion, Tau’s sta­tis­tics look might­ily im­pres­sive as his goals and as­sists go viral al­most ev­ery week on so­cial me­dia. But those who have watched the league closely be­lieve the stan­dard is well be­low the level of the Bafana Bafana in­ter­na­tional. “It’s a fact that Percy Tau is too good for that league, but there is noth­ing he can do about that be­cause his par­ent club [Brighton] has a re­la­tion­ship with Union,” says Anele Ngongca, who spent nine years with KRC Genk in

the Bel­gian Jupiler Pro League. “The Bel­gium First Di­vi­sion is not the type of league I thought Percy would go to. I was ex­pect­ing a club like Brighton to loan him to a top-flight club in Bel­gium or at least in France’s Ligue 1 where there are many scouts watch­ing ev­ery week. He could have even gone to the Bun­desliga in Ger­many. I have lots of friends play­ing in Bel­gium, and they all agree that the First Di­vi­sion is mainly for lo­cal young boys who are com­ing through the de­vel­op­ment ranks, and for play­ers who want to de­velop. But for a player like Percy, it was re­ally a shock for me when he went there.” Ngongca feels the level of foot­ball Tau is cur­rently be­ing ex­posed to will do lit­tle to help bet­ter-pre­pare him for his an­tic­i­pated re­turn to his Premier League mother club. “The Bel­gian First Di­vi­sion is not very com­pet­i­tive, and most play­ers are av­er­age,” he says. “I was ex­pect­ing to see Percy in the Pro League where Brighton would have had an op­por­tu­nity to fol­low him prop­erly and watch his games. Okay, they will get re­ports on how he is do­ing, which is nor­mal, but if you want a player pre­pared for the EPL, do you think send­ing him to a sec­ond-tier club will help him? I don’t think so. The test is not the same. I think this move is com­pli­cated be­cause from Brighton’s point of view, they ex­pect him to help the club gain pro­mo­tion to the Pro League.” Re­tired mid­fielder Lance Davids spent three years with Bel­gian side Lierse SK and shares the same sen­ti­ments as his for­mer Bafana Bafana team­mate. “It’s not a good league for a player like Percy Tau,” Davids starts. “Are they go­ing to get pro­moted at the end of the sea­son? They are do­ing well now, but it’s go­ing to be tough come the end of the sea­son be­cause it’s a re­ally, re­ally tough and com­pli­cated way to get pro­moted. But no, it’s not a good league. It’s ter­ri­ble foot­ball, and some­times there are no peo­ple at the grounds. It’s like watch­ing TS Galaxy play­ing against TS Sport­ing. It’s ter­ri­ble, and is very dif­fer­ent to the Bel­gium Pro League. It’s not tech­ni­cal, and most of the time they just play long balls. “The loan move has noth­ing to do with his po­ten­tial be­cause Percy is def­i­nitely a good player – he hit the ground run­ning as soon as he started play­ing and is do­ing well. But is that league for Percy Tau’s tal­ent? No, I don’t be­lieve so.”

What went wrong?

Brighton re­port­edly paid Sun­downs a stag­ger­ing R50 mil­lion for Tau’s ser­vices. KICK OFF un­der­stands that af­ter sign­ing for the English Premier League out­fit, the South African had of­fers on the ta­ble to join clubs in both Nether­lands and the Bel­gium top-flight on loan, but his par­ent club re­fused, opt­ing to send him to sec­ond-tier Union Saint-Gil­loise. With Tau’s busi­ness man­ager Mmat­satsi Se­falafala un­avail­able to shed light on the mat­ter, Thu­lani Thuswa – me­dia of­fi­cer at Tau’s pre­vi­ous club Sun­downs – says there was noth­ing The Brazil­ians could do from their side. “We sold Percy and what hap­pened af­ter that was out of our con­trol,” Thuswa says. “But look, we know that Percy is a good player and it doesn’t mat­ter which team he plays for – he will al­ways be a great player. When we sold him, we had no doubt in our minds that he was go­ing to out­grow the place where he was go­ing in the same way he out­grew the PSL. A lot of peo­ple speak highly of him, in­clud­ing for­mer Sene­gal striker El Hadji Diouf. Only time will tell where he will go next, but he has a good head on his shoul­ders.” In sim­i­lar fash­ion to Tau, a then ten­der 18-year-old Masilo Mo­dubi, along­side the late Jef­fery Ntuka and Sim­phiwe Mosia, was signed by English Premier­ship giants Chelsea in 2003. The trio were then sent out on loan to Bel­gium Pro League side Westerlo, where Mo­dubi played for eight years while be­ing con­stantly mon­i­tored by Chelsea. While nei­ther man­aged to get reg­is­tered in the EPL, the South African trio en­joyed mem­o­rable ca­reers in Bel­gium, yet Mo­dubi be­lieves the cir­cum­stances are now dif­fer­ent. “I was also loaned from Chelsea to Westerlo be­cause the truth is, it’s up to the par­ent club to de­cide where they want to loan you,” ex­plains Mo­dubi. “For us it was more about get­ting the Euro­pean pass­port more than play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. We didn’t have the re­quired Bafana Bafana caps to move to Eng­land and we were still very young at that time. I’m sure by the end of this sea­son Percy will qual­ify for a UK work per­mit be­cause he plays ev­ery Bafana game. “But talk­ing about the league it­self, the First Di­vi­sion in Bel­gium is very com­pet­i­tive phys­i­cally, but I have my own doubts about it be­cause there are few teams there that can com­pete. Hon­estly, it’s not up to Percy Tau’s stan­dards be­cause we are talk­ing about some­one who was the PSL Player of the Sea­son. In my opin­ion, they could have loaned him out else­where. I know that Union works with Brighton, but for his de­vel­op­ment, it would have been nice to see him com­pet­ing in other big leagues. I saw Andile Jali in his first six months in Bel­gium – he ini­tially

“THE ONLY THING THAT WILL MAKE HIM SUC­CESS­FUL IS HIS WILL­ING­NESS TO LEARN.”

“HE IS LEARN­ING EURO­PEAN FOOT­BALL, AND HAS NOW HAD A TASTE OF EURO­PEAN FOOT­BALL.”

strug­gled to ad­just be­cause he was in a tougher league, but af­ter that he was un­touch­able. Tau just ar­rived, and ev­ery­thing went up. Percy is a good player and has ad­justed well, but know­ing the stan­dard of the sec­ond-tier, it’s not at his level.”

Signs of im­prove­ment

With Tau ex­celling at his lower league club, it is ev­i­dently clear that the player has proven him­self to be a good sign­ing while si­mul­ta­ne­ously rais­ing his game. At pre­vi­ous club Sun­downs, Tau was mostly fo­cussed on at­tack­ing and show­ing his drib­bling wiz­ardly, yet his de­fen­sive abil­ity and tac­ti­cal aware­ness has im­proved vastly since mov­ing to Bel­gium, ac­cord­ing to for­mer team­mate Ngongca. “On a pos­i­tive side, he has im­proved a lot be­cause I have watched a cou­ple of matches he has played for Bafana Bafana,” Ngongca notes. “You can see since he is now play­ing in Europe, his men­tal­ity has changed. At Sun­downs he used to track back very lit­tle to help out in de­fence, but now that he is play­ing in Europe, he does that a lit­tle bit more than be­fore. He also now knows when and where to drib­ble, and doesn’t hang on the ball too much like he did when he was play­ing in the PSL. The only thing that will make him suc­cess­ful is his will­ing­ness to learn. He takes his job very se­ri­ously, and would al­ways stay be­hind af­ter ses­sions to do ex­tra train­ing. “Kevin de Bryne was the same when he was a young­ster at Genk – he would stay be­hind and prac­tise a lot. We can only hope he will get his dream move to the EPL. Steven Pien­aar is the last South African to achieve. But if the move doesn’t hap­pen next sea­son, hope­fully Brighton will loan him out to a big­ger club. He shouldn’t stay there for an­other sea­son be­cause that will not take him any­where. But Brighton has the last say. I would like to see Percy in France’s Ligue 1 be­cause that is his level. They are fast, and Percy has a foot­ball brain.” Davids adds that the taste of Euro­pean foot­ball, even though not at the high­est level, will make a dif­fer­ence in Tau’s per­for­mance. “Percy is do­ing well from the few matches I have watched,” he says. “I man­aged to watch his first match as well, and his tech­ni­cal abil­ity and speed were good. Tac­ti­cally he still needs to im­prove be­cause that comes over a pe­riod of time, and he is still get­ting to know his team. At Sun­downs he had a free role where he could do what­ever he wanted to do and that was im­por­tant. Now he is in Europe where it’s dif­fer­ent, but his men­tal­ity and at­ti­tude is good. He is learn­ing Euro­pean foot­ball, and has now had a taste of Euro­pean foot­ball.” Whether Tau will even re­turn to Eng­land, let alone make an im­pact, re­mains to be seen. For now though, the South African star will look to keep plug­ging away in the hope of guid­ing both his team and him­self to a higher level next sea­son.

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