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Percy Tau: The story of the Bafana Bafana and Club Brugge attacker

1:25 AM WAT 30/08/2019
Percy Tau, Club Brugge, August 2019
From being rejected several times to being appreciated by everyone in South Africa, this is the journey of one of the nation's favourite sons

From humble beginnings to the world stage: this is the story of the rise of Percy Tau, who's South Africa's hottest property in Europe right now. 

Born soon after the dawn of the new democracy in 1994, Tau has made good strides in football and looking back at where it all started, it's difficult to believe that he is now one of the best players to have ever come out of South Africa. 

In recent years, South African players have been criticised for not being hungry enough to test themselves abroad, but Tau, among other players who recently left these shores, continues to prove those critics wrong. 

Tau was initially spotted by Sundowns' scouts in 2010 whilst playing for Phahama Combined School in Randfontein; a small township outside Soweto in Johannesburg, but he was not recruited immediately by the Tshwane club.    

However, he maintained his focus and went on to shine at the Metropolitan Premier Cup, before Sundowns took real notice of his talent two years later.

He eventually joined the Downs academy in 2012 and soon afterwards, was selected to play for the SA U20 team and for Bafana Bafana later in his career. He has already scored nine international goals in 23 matches for Bafana. 

When Tau arrived at Sundowns in 2012, Rulani Mokwena, who is now in charge of Orlando Pirates, became his mentor and the pair worked together until the attacker was in his mid-20s. 

Very few people knew about Tau until he was promoted to the senior team, but those who have been following his career would remember how he inspired Clapham High - the school that educates Sundowns development players - to the Kay Motsepe Schools Cup triumph in 2013. 

He was soon promoted to the Sundowns first team, and it was perhaps too soon, as he never really unleashed his true potential in his first two seasons under Pitso Mosimane and Mokwena.  

At the time, there were fears that he might actually not make it given his small stature, but Tau had quick feet and pace in him, which were enough to convince Mokwena that he was a real deal. The coach kept faith in him even when Mosimane appeared to have given up. 

It's for this reason that Tau was sent to Witbank Spurs in the National First Division where he spent a year on loan trying to rediscover himself and think deeper about what he really wants to achieve as a professional footballer. 

Tau, who is born in a family of eight children, knew how important it was for him to focus on his football, and his return to Witbank did him a world of good as it brought him closer to his mother whom he begged for soccer boots as a young boy in order to play the sport he grew up loving - and this was the beginning of greater things to come. 

When his loan deal expired, Tau returned to Sundowns like a lion, hungry to make his mark, and in this instance, he wanted to tear down career barriers that previously prevented him from achieving his goals because he didn't want to disappoint his family, and specifically his mother. 

He won several trophies with the team, including the 2016 Caf Champions League as well as the 2017 Caf Super Cup - but that wasn't all, as Tau went on to be crowned the best player in South Africa at the 2018 PSL awards. This was when his mother opened up about the hardships of raising eight children who depended solely on her after their father had passed away.   

At this stage, Tau had already achieved everything one would have hoped for in the PSL, more so because he was at one stage demoted to the MultiChoice Diski Challenge (MDC). For a different player, this could have crushed his confidence, but this wasn't the case with the left-footer.   

After conquering all in the PSL, Tau moved abroad, signing for Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion. However, there were hurdles on the road, as he failed to get a UK work permit to play for his new team and had to move to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise; a second division outfit in Belgium

Tau was criticised for agreeing to the move. Even his former coach Mosimane wasn't convinced, perhaps because he was against the idea of Tau leaving Sundowns in the first place.

However, the nippy attacker was never deterred by everyone's opinion about the career path he took, and continued to soldier on.

At the end of the 2018/19 season, Tau was crowned the Proximus League Player of the Season for his stellar performances for Saint-Gilloise where he scored 13 goals and registered 11 assists. That's when other European clubs started noticing him.        

Getting the UK work permit was again problematic for Tau, and Club Brugge duly approached Brighton before agreeing a season-loan loan for the forward. 

That brings him to today, and the Uefa Champions League, where he will be rubbing shoulders with top players such as Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale, and Kylian Mbappe among others after his new team was drawn in Group A alongside Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, and Galatasary in the group stages. 

This puts him into very rare company, with few South Africans having got the chance to play at this level. Dino Ndlovu and Thulani Serero, who left Europe for China and UAE respectively, are recent examples.

Tau will become the only South African in the competition when the Champions League group stages get underway in mid-September, and the entire nation is hoping to see him emulate Benni McCarthy by reaching the tournament's latter stages to cement his current standing within the game.