JOHANNESBURG – The emotionless stare Percy Tau wore with his maiden CAF Champions League gold medal in Alexandria last year is something Mamelodi Sundowns need in their wardrobe tonight in Rabat.
The African champions face Wydad Casablanca at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium (10pm SA time) in what will be an emotionally-charged second leg clash in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
The 19-time Moroccan champions have tried a number of tricks to unsettle Sundowns since their arrival on Tuesday, from giving them a below-par bus to not organising a training venue for them.
They will intensify those tricks in front of 45 000 fans as they trail 1-0.
If Sundowns can keep their cool, that’s half the battle won in their quest to retain the biggest prize in club football in the continent.
While his teammates were jovial in celebrating that accomplishment last year, Tau was in his zone. He wore a blank expression at the realisation of being an African champion at 22.
He handled the whole affair with maturity beyond his years. His strong grasp of his emotions and bravery are skills that will come in handy tonight.
“I am prepared enough,” Tau said. “I don’t only train to prepare my body physically, but I also prepare myself mentally because that’s the most important arsenal. I know failure is part of life and football. That acceptance ensures fear of failure doesn’t hold me back.
“I think that’s where my bravery comes from. I am not afraid to make mistakes.
“If I miss an opportunity, I quickly move on from it because I know I will do better with the next chance. As a player you need to take risks, and that’s what I do. I am just a player who loves winning.”
Tau said this with the grin that’s become a permanent feature of his appearance along with his unkempt hair. That grin lit up Bethlehem in the 23-year-old’s last domestic match before he was consumed by Champions League business.
Tau inspired the Brazilians to a 2-1 win over Free State Stars on Monday last week, coming off the bench to score two brilliant goals. The second, a well-taken free-kick, was the reward of the hours he spends alone after training, fine-tuning his craft.
“I don’t know my destination. I don’t know what kind of a player I am going to be in the next five years. But what I do know is that I am going to be one of the best players in the continent.
“I can only achieve that through hard work. I always thrive to be better than I was in my last match so I can improve aspects of my game that need improvement...
“Aspects of my game that are probably on 50 percent that I need to take to 90 percent or more. I don’t mind working on my own because I am a loner.
“The loner in me directs me to where I need to be and what I need to do to reach those goals. I am not where I want to be. There are a lot of things that are still missing in my game.”
It’s a good thing then for Tau that he has someone like coach Pitso Mosimane to keep him on his toes.
The two have a lot in common. They aren’t easily satisfied and always thrive to be better than they were yesterday.
“He demands a lot of things from me,” Tau said. “I also demand a lot of things from myself because I need to improve.
“He gave me the platform to play Champions League football. I am grateful to work with him. He is helping me to be a better boy.”