CAPE TOWN - The Mother City has been fortunate, even extremely privileged, to have had the opportunity to witness two magical moments from the buoyant Percy Tau within the space of a week.
Two Fridays ago, in a PSL fixture against Cape Town City at a packed Athlone Stadium, the gifted 23-year-old produced a match-winning move that still reverberates with awe throughout my senses. Last Friday at Athlone, the Mamelodi Sundowns star popped up again, when his team needed him most, to net a cool, clinical winner in a tight last 32 clash against NFD side Cape Town All Stars. In both games, Sundowns were inferior for large periods of the match - but, thanks to the invention and composure of the ice-cool Tau, they went on to win both.
But it was particularly the assist against City that has captivated the imagination of the football public. Tau slalomed beyond a few defenders with pace and verve and, when he was boxed in at the near post, he flicked the ball up with one foot and scooped it over with the other, for teammate Khama Billiat to volley into the net. It was a blinding piece of skill and trickery. As Wits coach Gavin Hunt remarked last week: “what Percy Tau did was unbelievable, I’ve never in my life seen something like that. If Lionel Messi did that, it would be on the front page.”
As for Tau’s coach, Pitso Mosimane, he has no doubt the player is ready for a shot at Europe. Most certainly so: Tau is the leading candidate for Footballer of the Year this season and, truth be told, for me, he has outgrown the PSL. It’s time for him to test himself on a bigger stage. Will he? Won’t he? We’ve seen this before, of course, where talented local footballers prefer to be big fish in a small pond, and never really fulfil their true potential. So the Sundowns star has a big decision to make.
Tau is currently at the crossroads, where he is the proverbial “boy in the bubble”, from the song made famous by Paul Simon. The famous singer-songwriter came to South Africa to work with township musicians in the mid-1980s, and it was the opening track on the Graceland album. The Boy in the Bubble is a tune by Simon and Forere Motloheloa, members of a Sotho group called Tau Ea Matsekha, to which Simon wrote the words. It speaks specifically about the struggle between hope and dread in these days of miracle and wonder. For Tau, that struggle is now real: Does he stay in his comfort zone, wrapped cosily in the confines of the PSL bubble? Or does he be bold, and step outside the bubble, and really challenge himself against the best footballers in the better leagues in Europe?
In the words from the song: “These are the days of miracle and wonder, this is the long distance call, the way the camera follows us in slo-mo”. A footballer’s career is brief; it’s not forever and, in the wink of an eye, it’s over. Opportunity doesn’t come to everyone, but, when it knocks on your door, how will you respond? This is my long distance call to Tau - in this modern world of miracle and wonder, in this era of an opportunity, aspiration and enterprise, surely, he cannot refuse - it’s time to follow the dream.
Tau will hover between thoughts of the hope of what he can become, and what he can achieve overseas, and then balance that with the dread of leaving the safe, reliable PSL nest. As we’ve seen with South Africans before, they struggle to adapt to the weather, culture, initial loneliness, lack of support structure and foreign language when moving abroad. But there are also those who have toughed it out and emerged as better footballers and more rounded and grounded human beings. As footballers, they’ve been exposed to different styles of play, various tactical approaches and innovative training methods - and they’ve proven that South Africans can achieve on the global stage. It’s all about character, mental strength and knowing what you, as an individual, want to achieve.
To return to the lyrics of Boy in the Bubble, “every generation throws a hero up the pop charts” - this is Tau’s turn. Either he’s content with staying in the PSL cocoon, secure in the safety of home, or he’s determined to break out of the PSL bubble and be the best he can be, by challenging himself against the best there is? Hope or dread? What’s it to be, Percy?