Percy Tau last week finalised his move to Brighton and Hove Albion in the full knowledge that he will not play for Brighton and Hove Albion any time soon.
Bafana Bafana have seen to that; their ranking has little prospect of improving. So, as per British standards, he’ll have to do it the long way by capturing as many caps as possible if a work permit is to be granted. Therefore, the club has confirmed he’ll be loaned out right away.
Beyond the conjecture around owner Tony Bloom’s new Belgian second-division club, there’s been little indication of the destination being locked down. Union Saint-Gilloise would be too elementary a level for South Africa’s most gifted footballer, but arguably the concept of a loan itself will bring additional challenges.
Speak to just about any former player and they’ll tell the necessity of swimming in uncomfortable waters — or “taking the plunge”. There’s as much gamble as there is truth in that statement, however.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in the world of Football Manager. Players disagree with coaches, fail to adapt to new team structures, become discombobulated by alien cultures. Even the world’s elite are vulnerable. Adding in another destination on the way to the English Premier League increases the possibility of those adverse outcomes befalling Tau.
Matthew Booth, having played in Russia for seven years, understands the intricacies of stepping on to foreign soil. Should Tau end up in Belgium or somewhere else in Europe, the towering former defender says he would be well advised to open himself up to the experience and not arrive cocky.
“I would encourage him to learn the local languages,” he says. “Try and abide by the local culture. Just so when times do get tough, the fans do get behind you. If you go there with a bit too much arrogance then it’s a lot easier for fans to turn against you. From a cultural aspect it’s important to do that, to try make an effort to fit in. After all you are earning a salary — from the fans indirectly.”
Unfortunately, we do live in the world of Financial Fair Play Regulations, where teams can only spend as much as they make. This nuisance — from a managerial standpoint — means clubs have had to adapt their transfer strategies around the need to generate more revenue. Much of the Premier League has adopted a practice, perfected by Chelsea, of picking up a player cheaply, sending him out for service with the loan army and selling him on for profit. Not unlike a dealership flipping a second-hand car.
We assume Brighton has long-term plans for Tau, but an assumption it remains. It’s not improbable that they’ve identified a brilliant 24-year-old who they know can bring in a tasty sum after he delivers his act on the European stage.
“[Brighton and Hove Albion manager] Chris Hughton is a really wily character,” Booth counters. “They haven’t gone to all this effort to waste a product. It’s an investment for them, so I’m sure they will make a good decision for both parties.”
Ultimately, if Tau delivers on the ball, it won’t matter what anybody else’s plan is. The threat of a thread of loans remains, however. We’ve been quick to praise his bravery in taking the plunge, but the dangers of being strung along by a club remain. All eyes will now be on how he navigates his European adventure.