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The rare fairytale of Percy Tau

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By Luke Feltham

It wasn’t long after arriving in England that Percy Tau had to cough up the tax all footballers must pay to live out their dreams: dealing with the media people.

Speaking to Brighton & Hove Albion’s official channel, he was asked the lessons he had learned while playing on a Belgian football pitch for two-and-a-half years.

“Personality,” he said through his endearing, bashful, smile. “Simple as that.”

Taken aback by not receiving a regular platitude, the interviewer pressed him on what personality his new fans may see from him.

“Being confident, believing in the talent that God gave me,” came the response.

“And also working in and around the team — most teams that I’ve been to had a personality, a way into how they play, and a way into how they behave.”

It’s understandable that Tau might count mental attributes as his key take-away from his three loan spells in the country.

As successful as it has been, his time in Europe has also been darkened by uncertainty, so often the bane of a footballing career.

Until now he has had to dribble on an uncertain path, keeping his head down in the hope that factors out of his control fall his way.

A South African superstar, it will inevitably be his role as a flag bearer in the English Premier League (we have not seen one since Steven Pienaar) that will capture the most attention.

But arguably it is his fightback from the brink of remoteness that provides the far more intriguing narrative.

He is an example of a buck to the system — an inspiration and potentially an outlier, the rare exception who may prove the rule.

It threatened to be very different, of course.

Following a stellar PSL season, in which he reduced the player of the year vote to a formality, Tau earned a ticket to England’s South Coast to play for a team in the world’s most-watched league.

The problem was that it was immediately clear he would not be slipping into a blue-and-white shirt thanks to issues with securing a work permit.

Among the many stringent requirements that stood in his way was Bafana Bafana’s feeble global ranking that would not be improved anytime soon.

And so Tau went on loan to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in the Belgium second division.

For a player who had sparkled so brilliantly in front of packed, mesmerised stadiums, it felt criminal to exile him to the lower echelon of mediocre Flemish football.

It was made all the more conspicuous because Brighton’s owner, Tony Bloom, had recently acquired Union and was evidently shuffling around his assets at will.

At the Mail & Guardian, we lamented the fact that the greatest local player of his generation had apparently surrendered to his fate.

We questioned whether he had received the appropriate guidance in the cutthroat world of football transfers.

To his immense credit, Tau put his knuckles into the ground and got to work; first in his stodgy initial assignment and later in his well-earned moves to Club Brugge and Anderlecht.

The latter two took him far closer to the level we all believe he should be playing at and even onto the master stage that is the Champions League.

And then, Brexit.

What is a bureaucratic nightmare for most in Europe became an open door for one diminutive South African.

Brighton had had the foresight to predict that the eventuality would erode the barriers to Tau’s work permit and inserted a recall option into his latest loan agreement.

They exercised that option at the first available opportunity.

You’ve probably never heard of Matej Delač.

There’s little reason why you would have: the Croatian goalkeeper has done little of note in his career.

But when he left Chelsea in 2018, Delač was the club’s longest-serving professional.

That fact is true even if he did not make a single appearance for his handlers amid no less than 10 loan spells.

In the Blues’ longevity stakes, his spiritual successor was Lucas Piazon — a baby-faced, once-highly touted Brazilian attacker who waved goodbye last week after nine-and-a-half years at the team.

He’s gone one better than Delač and has made one appearance.

Delač and Piazon are two examples of what might be considered collateral damage in the modern era of bartering.

The last decade, governed by financial fair play regulations, has given birth to a new way of approaching the transfer market.

Streamlined and popularised by Chelsea, but certainly not unique to the club, the idea is simple: scoop up talent at bargain prices, send them out on loan for experience and exposure, and then sell on for a healthy profit.

Most who are churned through this system have no hope of making it at their parent clubs.

European football has always been a merciless environment, particularly for African players who enter historically racist spaces that are all too happy to exploit their desperate dreams.

But some might argue this new style of grooming for sale is even more pernicious than capitalist indifference.

Hence, when Tau signed to Brighton for £2.8-million, a pittance for a Premier League club, with no prospect of actually playing for them, alarm bells began to sound.

Would his price tag be fattened before he is plucked and sold to an arbitrary Russian team?

Fortunately, it appears we can assuage the fears we had that Bafana’s best player would get lost in the wilderness.

After a cameo off the FA Cup bench, Tau was trusted from the start in an arduous visit to possession-hoarding Manchester City.

There’s arguably no game more frustrating for an opposition forward, but Tau still managed to produce a couple of his trademark feint-and-burst runs that news channels back home could play on repeat.

It’s unclear what role manager Graham Potter envisions for his recruit, but almost certainly he will dish out further chances.

To the Seagulls’ credit, it appears they had always held out hope of Tau’s arrival and had him in their long-term vision.

“I always had contact with the club all the time during my loans,” Tau told The Athletic in his second media engagement.

“Every time, they would come up with something, ‘This is possible, this might be possible’, and I would always be excited and hoping that, actually, it might happen. But then it didn’t.”

“They would let me know about any developments in how I could get here. This time around, they said, ‘It’s going to happen.’ I was like, ‘OK, I’ll wait to see again if it really does’, and it’s happened!”

Entering into his prime and with a new club desperate for a saviour (with just two league wins all season), there is every chance the 26-year-old becomes a cult figure at Brighton.

He’s a type player that an English crowd would easily adore: a hardworking introvert whose humble nature belies his audacious skill on the pitch.

Amid the potential adulation, which will also only continue back home, is a success story; one that one can only hope will inspire clubs to look differently at their expansive rosters of talent. – Mail & Guardian

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End of an era: Bloemfontein Celtic is no more

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Staff Reporter

The Premier Soccer League (PSL) has finalised the transfer of business between Bloemfontein Celtic and the KwaZulu-Natal based Royal AM.

A circular issued by the PSL on Tuesday and addressed to the chairpersons and chief executive officers of all member clubs says the football body has approved the transfer of business and advises of the team’s name change and relocation.

“The club previously known as Bloemfontein Celtic will participate in the DSTV Premiership as Royal AM this season, with its home venue at Chatsworth Stadium,” reads part of the circular.

The sale will bring to an end the team’s colourful 52 years of existence after it was founded by Norman Mathobisa and Victor Mahatane in 1969.

Celtic has been dogged by financial troubles over the past few years with players failing to get their salaries on time on several occasions.

This is said to have forced club owner Max Tshabalala to hand over the team to Durban businesswoman and socialite Shawn Mkhize for R50 million.

Mkhize owns First Division side Royal AM and wanted to elevate her profile in the male-dominated field by buying Celtic’s premiership status.

She has since sold her team to pursue her dream of owning a soccer team in the top-flight league, the PSL confirmed.

“The club previously known as Royal AM will participate in GladAfrica Champioship as Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila, with its home venue at Thohoyandou Stadium,” the circular explained.

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Bloem Celtic believed sold

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Staff Reporter

Unconfirmed reports say the financially troubled Bloemfontein Celtic have sold their Premier Soccer League (PSL) status to Durban businesswoman and socialite Shawn Mkhize for R50 million.

The PSL executive committee is said to have okayed the deal when it met on Friday.

Not much detail is known about the sale of the only DSTV Premiership side in the Free State as all parties involved in the deal have not divulged any information.

Celtic have been dogged by financial troubles over the past few seasons amid rumours that club owner Max Tshabalala was ready to let go of the team.

All that’s left, according to media reports, is for Mkhize – who owns National First Division outfit Royal AM – to pay the R50 million in order to finalise the deal.

It’s believed the move would see Bloemfontein Celtic relocating to KwaZulu-Natal Province and assume a new name.

The team was founded by Norman Mathobisa and Victor Mahatane in 1969.

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Hugo Broos named as new Bafana Bafana coach

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Belgian Hugo Broos has been named the new coach of Bafana Bafana‚ the South African Football Association (SAFA) announced on Wednesday.

Broos, 69, arrives with an impressive CV‚ most notably having won league titles in Belgium with Club Brugge twice and once with Anderlecht‚ and led Cameroon to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations title.

The announcement was made at the SABC’s Radio Park in Auckland Park.

Broos’ name is believed to have been one of five that SAFA’s technical committee confirmed as their shortlist to an NEC meeting on April 24.

That list‚ sources have said‚ consisted of Portuguese ex-Bafana and Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz‚ AmaZulu coach Benni McCarthy‚ Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane‚ Kaizer Chiefs boss Gavin Hunt and either Broos or Saudi Arabia coach Herve Renard.

SAFA‚ sources had revealed‚ approached both Queiroz and McCarthy in recent weeks‚ but the association was unable to meet demands from both regarding the fellow technical staff they wanted the association to appoint.

Broos replaces Molefi Ntseki‚ who was released from his contract as Bafana head coach on March 31‚ after the national team’s failure to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

A 1970s and 1980s defender who earned 24 caps for Belgium‚ Broos’ playing career was spent mostly at RSC Anderlecht (350 appearances) and Club Brugge (161).

He began his coaching career at RWD Molenbeek in 1988‚ and from 1991 to 1997 at Club Brugge won league titles in 1991-92 and 1995-96‚ the Belgian Cup in 1994-95 and 1995-96‚ and Belgian Supercup in 1991‚ 1992‚ 1994 and 1996.

Coaching Anderlecht from 2003 to 2005 he won the 2003-04 league title.

He coached the late former Bafana right-back Anele Ngcongca at KRC Genk in 2008.

Since then his career has taken him to Panserraikos in Greece‚ Trabzonspor in Turkey‚ Al Jazira in United Arab Emirates‚ JS Kabylie and NA Hussein Dey in Algeria‚ and then Cameroon from 2016 to 2017.

Most recently he was sports director, then caretaker-manager of Oostende‚ where Mamelodi Sundowns star Andile Jali played until 2018‚ in Belgium between 2018 and 2019.

Broos was sacked as coach of the Indomitable Lions by the Cameroonian Football Federation in December 2017‚ 10 months after he led them to their fifth Africa Cup of Nations title in Gabon that year‚ reportedly over pay issues.

Cameroon beat Egypt 2-1 in the Nations Cup final on February 5 2017.

They had progressed through the group stage with a win and two draws‚ then beat Senegal on penalties in the quarterfinals‚ and Ghana 2-0 in the semis.

Having coached in North and West Africa on the continent‚ Broos will have an adjustment to make to a different playing style and mental approach in South Africa.

He also must undergo a quick crash course on SA football and the players he has available as Bafana’s 2022 Qatar World Cup group stage qualification campaign begins with the match against Zimbabwe in Harare on the weekend of June 5 to 6. – Times Live

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