JOHANNESBURG - “I choose history!” Those words resonate loudly in a clip where Percy Tau is seen answering his phone before ambling down the tunnel – like a superstar, with the ball tucked in between his elbow and hip – as he arrives on the pitch to make a grand unveiling.
After weeks of speculation around his future, Tau was unveiled as an Al Ahly player on Thursday on a four-year deal after leaving English Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion, the side that signed him from Mamelodi Sundowns in 2018. This move divided opinion in the football fraternity in the country, and probably on the continent: some adamant that he should have fought harder for a regular spot at Brighton, while others reckon it was best for him to leave.
Often in recent seasons it’s been difficult for local footballers to crack it in the European leagues, with many buying a one-way return ticket after a season or two. Few imagined that Tau would be among them. How did a player of Tau’s calibre, who had engraved himself as one of the darlings of African football, get it wrong at a lowly ranked club like Brighton that he had to cut his European dream short and return to the continent?
Tau has a shy personality, a trait that nearly made his adaptation challenging during his first stint in Belgium, on loan at second tier side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise. But there was less pressure, normality reigned, and he adapted seamlessly. He stood head and shoulders above the rest and was crowned the Proximus Footballer of the Season. At Brighton the lockdown rules were stringent. This meant he was cooped up indoors, with little time to mingle with teammates and the supporters – something that could have forced him to come out of his comfort zone. However, in Belgium he became an instant household name. After his full debut at Club Brugge, where he went through the club’s initiation, chanting ‘Brugges’, everyone already knew what he was all about. At RSC Anderlecht, in his third season out on loan, Tau was a fully-fledged Pro League player.
I Choose History. pic.twitter.com/vNjEoEgEeW— Percy Muzi Tau (@percymuzitau22) August 27, 2021
In the three successive spells in various cities in Belgium, Tau never faced a hazardous situation for his club. But that was not the case when he returned to Brighton where they were staring relegation in the second half of the season. In that situation the Seagulls’ coach, Graham Potter, was not afforded the luxury to chop and change to accommodate new personnel. As a result, Tau had to settle for only six appearances and one assist on his return to the club from January to May. We can’t ignore the notion that African playmakers and attackers are expected to be stocky so that they bulldoze defenders with and without the ball in the EPL. But Tau is not that kind of a player. He makes up for what he lacks physically with skill and pace. His first goal for the Seagulls, during pre-season, had all those traits. But like the old saying goes: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!” Pitso Mosimane is set to reap the fruit of his labour as he’ll reunite with his protégé at the Red Devils next season.
The duo had a fruitful stint at Sundowns, winning multiple trophies, including the Champions League. They reunite in Cairo with bigger targets to achieve. There’s the Egyptian Cup and Champions League to defend, and the Premiership and Club World Cup to win. Many might view Tau’s return to the continent as a downgrade, given the big bucks he’d have earned in the EPL even if he was not going to be a regular, but it’s safe to say: “Tau chose history!” After all, few get to play for the African Club of the Century.