JOHANNESBURG – Percy Tau, unknowingly, started preparing for his duel with Lionel Messi a long time ago.
Mamelodi Sundowns’ international friendly against Barcelona tomorrow at FNB Stadium has not only been billed champions versus champions, with both teams having won their respective leagues, but it’s also been described as a contest between Percy and Messi.
Tau’s coach at the Brazilians’ academy and eventually the first team, before he crossed the floor to Orlando Pirates - Rhulani Mokwena, would call it Pessi versus Messi. Mokwena laid the foundation in preparing Tau for this duel against one of the best footballers of all time, who was rested for this friendly by Barcelona on Sunday in their 5-4 loss to Levante - their only defeat in this season's La Liga.
“One of the funny stories is that whenever we did our tactical work or team talks, in my presentation I would always spell his name as P.E.S.S.I,” Mokwena explained.
“I would always make him visualise himself as Lionel Messi. I would say to him, Pessi is Messi minus the 'P'. The pronunciation sounds the same. I said to him you are going to be to South Africa what Messi is to Argentina and Barcelona.
“This initially scared him. He would say: ‘Jose’, please don’t say that, it’s a bit far-fetched.' I shared with him the similarities that the two have, from the height, the low centre of gravity and technical perspective. Messi is left-footed, so is Percy.
From a tactical perspective, they are similar in relation to how they react to time, space, their ability to break (defensive) lines, their ability to dribble, do solo actions with the ball and ability to do unexpected and spontaneous things in the final third. They are also similar from a mental perspective. Percy is always willing to learn.”
Tau blushes at the mention of this friendly being a contest between him and Messi.
“It’s because we both play with the left foot,” Tau said. “Maybe that’s where the comparisons come from. But I don’t feel any pressure from those talks. I’ll never compare myself to that guy. He’s on another level.”
Barcelona are also on another level. Sundowns will try to bridge the gap between them and the Catalan giants by holding their own. The Brazilians’ coach Pitso Mosimane argued that this match is an opportunity for Sundowns to see how far they are from the best in the world.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Tau said. “We also want to see if they can deal with the things that we do at Sundowns. We know them and we have watched them. We also want to see if they can deal with our movements. We’ve tested ourselves at the Club World Cup and we picked up few things. Now, we want to test ourselves against the best and see where we are.”
Tau is currently the best in the country. He is the favourite to be named Footballer of the Year after a stellar season with Sundowns.
Not only is he a league champion, but there are also a number of overseas clubs after him, which means that the friendly against Barcelona could be part of his farewell at Sundowns. This match is also an opportunity for him to show the world what he can do as it will be beamed across the globe due to the Spanish giants’ global appeal.
“If I get a good offer overseas, (I will leave). If I don’t, I will remain at Sundowns and give it my all like I have been doing.
“I am ready to move to Europe (though). I have played in the Caf Champions League, Club World Cup and I have played for Bafana Bafana. I have tested myself in those games and I have seen a lot of good things about myself.”
Tau continued: “I just want to keep on going. I want to be a regular at Bafana Bafana, play in the Africa Cup of Nations and in the world stage. There’ll always be so much that I can learn. My motivation to be better than I was yesterday wakes me up in the morning. It pushes me to do extra training.
“It just comes from within, that go to training, leave your books (from your studies towards a degree in Marketing) and come back to them with a clear mind after training.”