UPDATE: Percy Tau is now officially a Brighton & Hove Albion player and the English club have confirmed that he will go out on loan.
As you are reading this, Percy Tau is a Brighton & Hove Albion player, or on the verge of becoming one. After ceaseless speculation, Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane confirmed last week that his side was preparing for the inevitable.
The Premier Soccer League (PSL) player of the season will be moving abroad. A week of reports tells us that Tau travelled to England to complete a medical and a R50-million move.
Without a doubt, he has been the country’s superior player over the past few months and a transfer seemed destined since January. It’s one of football’s few certainties: the supremely talented can only swim in shallow water for so long before being plucked from the pond.
Despite the sense of inevitability, Tau has evidently done his best to expedite the move. After missing preseason training, his camp leaked both that information and details of the Brighton deal. After he and his agent apologised to Patrice Motsepe, the club owner gave Tau his blessing and instructed management to finalise the negotiations.
Holding up the process is the issue of a work permit. Tau is not automatically eligible and, should he fail to get a permit, Brighton will probably have to loan him out for at least a few months.
Tau wants to go overseas and South Africa is desperate for him to succeed in one of the world’s best leagues, but have we checked for any lurking thorns before swallowing the fruit? Success will require not just regular time on the pitch but also at a high level.
“The only thing that worries me is that a lot of the players that have gone over there recently haven’t really got real game time,” says Clive Barker, Bafana’s former Afcon-winning manager. “The only place you develop your skills as a footballer is on the field. If he gets that then I’m all for the move; it’ll be good for him.”
For the most part, Barker is positive about Tau’s move. Like the rest of us, he has watched as our exports overseas have slowly waned. In 2018, we have reached a point where we cherish all those who are valued in Europe, even in its smaller leagues.
The last time Bafana earned World Cup qualification was to the 2002 Korea and Japan showpiece. That team featured no shortage of overseas-based talent. Manchester United, Ajax Amsterdam, Leeds United and Porto were among the European giants represented in the squad. Even those who played under Barker’s tenure were better represented internationally than the current iteration of the team.
“There was a difference then,” Barker says. “We had just come out of isolation and people were focusing on what the South Africans were doing.
“Percy must first of all get into the team to play consistently, play well, get recognised and then maybe eventually work his way through Europe like Benni McCarthy did. I’m not comparing them, because I think Benni is a better player, but certainly if Percy wants the challenge then it’s there for him to take.”
Bafana’s troubles might make that journey a little more arduous — Tau may encounter difficulties in getting a work permit. Since 2015, Premier League rules state that players hailing from nations ranked 51 or lower must have represented their country in 75% of international matches played in the past two years. Bafana sits in lowly 74th place and Tau falls short with 11 caps.
Brighton is likely to ask the football association’s exceptions panel to take a look at the situation. Their ruling will affect Tau’s immediate future. Should a work permit be denied, he will probably be loaned out until he becomes eligible.
The English club’s loan history over the past two years has been erratic. Mostly they have sent players to lower leagues in England but have also done this with clubs abroad in places such as Norway and the Netherlands.
Brighton owner Tony Bloom this year expanded his footballing empire with the purchase of Belgian second division side Union Saint Gilloise. Speculation suggests this could be Tau’s next destination.
We have to ask ourselves: Would we be happy if our brightest talent is left to languish in Scandinavia or the nether regions of Belgium?
Tau was the best player in the country last season. His natural instinct on the ball and speed on the drive had no parallel in the PSL. He is a wizard who brought magic to our pitches. We don’t want him lost to the merciless football market.
Farouk Khan has helped develop some of the PSL’s big names. Tau’s move is one to be celebrated, he says, but agrees that a loan could dig deep potholes into his road to stardom.
“I think it would have an effect on his performance because you’re only as good as the players around you,” he says. “If you play with players that are not at the highest level, it does affect the way you play, because obviously the league that you’re going to be playing in won’t be as demanding as, let’s say, even our own PSL. It can be a downside to the move if he’s going to be playing in one of those leagues.”
Should Tau get a crack at Brighton, he has an opportunity to attack some of the best defences in the world; a chance to prove his talent has already booked him a seat at football’s upper echelon.
For the moment, however, the doubt that perhaps Tau was too quick to force through a move will remain.
By opting not to take his time, he has seemingly surrendered his fate to the whims of the Premier League. Football at that level is ruthless; teams will slit the throats of careers without a pause. Should bureaucracy fail Tau, his new club will surely do the same.