Does Percy Tau have a future in the English Premier League (PL), or will he follow in the footsteps of former Bafana Bafana captain Bongani Khumalo, who signed a long-term contract in England but never played an official game for Tottenham Hotspur? This is a valid question after his latest move to Belgium, where he was unveiled by RCS Anderlecht this week.
Two years ago, Tau was a hit at Mamelodi Sundowns before he signed a four-year contract with PL club Brighton & Hove Albion for a reported South African record transfer fee in the region of R50 million.
However, the player from Emalahleni in Mpumalanga was immediately shipped out to Belgium on loan because he didn’t meet the work permit requirements to play in the Premiership.
Despite being voted the Belgian second division’s best player in his maiden campaign abroad in the 2017/18 season, Tau’s spell with Royale Union Saint-Gilloise marked the beginning of his club-hopping abroad.
Club Brugge KV became his new home last season, where he scored three goals and had four assists in 30 games across all competitions during the club’s title-winning campaign.
The 26-year-old also featured prominently in Brugge’s Uefa Champions League run, in which he starred against the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid. He left the Bruges-based club at the end of the season.
Now Tau has clinched yet another loan move to RSC Anderlecht, who unveiled him this week.
It means “The Lion of Judah” will spend another season away from his parent club Brighton, without having kicked a ball for them.
Similarly, Khumalo spent the duration of his four and a half year contract – between 2011 and 2015 – at Spurs away on multiple loan spells before the defender was released without playing a competitive game for the London-based club.
The work permit issue
With stringent work permit requirements in the UK, the chances of Tau ever donning Brighton’s colours look slim.
This is because being granted a work permit hinges on a points-based system in which clubs must apply to the FA for a “governing body endorsement”, and this includes a national team’s Fifa ranking.
With the Covid-19 coronavirus slamming the brakes on international matches, the chances of Bafana climbing up the ladder are as slim as Tau’s chances of playing in England.
According to the UK’s football rules, Brighton can ask an FA exceptions panel to consider the player’s experience and value to determine whether an endorsement should be granted.
That’s if the player does not automatically meet the criteria for a work permit, but Brighton have not done so for three seasons. Instead, The Seagulls are happy to send Tau out on loan, which doesn’t do his prospects of appearing in the PL any good.
Former Bafana midfielder Maimane Phiri, who spent six years in Turkey, is concerned that the club-hopping could work against Tau’s development, even though the player has proved that he has what it takes to succeed at any club.
“Playing just one season at a club is not good at all. What he needs is the stability of maybe two or three seasons. But the good thing is that he is still in the same country [Belgium], and he knows the culture, the weather conditions, the atmosphere and the playing philosophy.
“This should make it easy for him to adapt at his new club,” said Phiri, adding that he had no doubt Tau would succeed at Anderlecht.
“The transition from one club to another should be easy for him because he will come up against the same opponents. And this is one of the biggest clubs in the country, which should improve his game. The one important thing is that he needs to play regularly so he can convince Brighton that he deserves a place in their team.”
Another local legend, Lucas “Rhoo” Radebe, was adamant that Tau would not be coming back home any time soon.
“He must just be patient and not let it [club-hopping] cloud his mind,” advised Radebe, who spent more than a decade playing in England for Leeds United from 1994 to 2005.
The former Bafana captain added: “In Europe, clubs don’t only look at the talent, but they look at the character of a player and, most importantly, how he adapts.
“Percy has the character and he has proved during his time in Belgium that he can adapt to a foreign environment.
“I think he’s very close to going to the Premier League. This is the season where he needs to focus and push for regular game time.”
Radebe was also concerned about the stringent UK work permit requirements standing in the way of South Africa’s star.
“Obviously, the rules are tough for foreign players to be granted a work permit in a country such as England. One other key aspect is the rankings of a national team and, if Bafana are ranked low, there’s definitely going be a little bit of doubt.”
Radebe, however, said he was not losing hope for his compatriot.
“Tau is an investment and this has been supported by the fact that there are always suitors lining up to sign him whenever his loan spells end,” Radebe said.
“At Anderlecht, he is with the right person in Vincent Kompany, who will definitely recommend him highly in the Premiership. So I think Percy is very close to a move to England and, hopefully, this is the season it happens.”
Kompany, the former Manchester City captain, is the player-coach at Anderlecht.
Message of hope
In welcoming Tau to Anderlecht shortly after the Brussels-based outfit unveiled him on Wednesday, Kompany said in a video on the club’s Twitter account: “I just want to say I hope this is going to be an amazing journey for you. And you said you’re coming here for the next step [in your career]‚ so we’re going to push you to be the best player you can be. And I know that they’re looking back to you in the PL, so it’s our role to bring you there.”
Hopefully, Kompany (34) will be around to guide Tau after angry club supporters this week called for him to resign.
The discontent followed Anderlecht’s 2-0 preseason friendly defeat to French club Lille last weekend.
When he rejoined his boyhood club last season after 11 years at City, Kompany said the focus would be on developing young players rather than making big-money buys.
Anderlecht finished eighth last season and will kick off their new season with an away league fixture against KV Mechelen today.