Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion have announced the signing of forward Percy Tau from South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns.
Tau has signed a four-year deal with the south coast side, who confirmed him as their seventh capture of the transfer window on Friday. He will be sent out on loan to gain experience and acclimatise to Europe.
“Going out on loan is always good to help a player develop and get better. It’s new for me to be in Europe, and I’ll get to work on myself and a few things that I need to improve,” Tau told the Brighton website.
“I’m hoping to get a better understanding of the game from playing there. It’s a different approach to what we’re used to in South Africa. It’s exciting football.”
Tau was named South African Footballer of the Year for 2017-18 as he helped Sundowns win the league title.
“Last season was great, I got a few personal achievements, but we won the league as well, which is something that means so much to me,” he said.
“I’m happy to have gone down that path, but it’s over now and it’s time to make new memories. This move should help me play more international football. I’ll be learning a lot, which will also be good for my country.
“Hopefully I can make some great memories here – I love making memories and I’m so happy to be here. I’m very impressed with the facilities, they’re better than what I’m used to. It’s something I expected and it’s a better place to be.”
It makes Tau the first player to move directly to the Premier League from South Africa since Kagisho Dikgacoi left Golden Arrows for Fulham in 2009. Dikgacoi did not find success at Craven Cottage, but later on was a steady performer for Crystal Palace.
There had been talk that Tau would join Belgian second-tier side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, which is also owned by Brighton head Tony Bloom, but the club are seeking alternatives in a higher division.
The move is a big deal not just for Sundowns – who could pocket up to R65-million (£3.7-million) – and Tau, but also the South African Premier Soccer League and perceptions of football in the country altogether.
Players from west Africa dominate the numbers from the continent in the European leagues and as such, clubs regularly scout in that region. Manchester United’s scout for Africa, Italian Omar Sciolla, is based in Dakar, Senegal to give him easy access to the region.
But the outlook would change if the PSL could start to supply players on a somewhat regular basis to the top five leagues in Europe, as was the case in the past.
Before Tau, the only current player to have moved from the PSL to an elite league in Europe is Keagan Dolly, who went from Sundowns to Montpellier in Ligue 1.
Another former Sundowns player, Bongani Zungu, is also in France at Amiens, but arrived there via Portugal, while Kermit Erasmus went from Orlando Pirates to Stade Rennes, but could not make an impact and is now playing in Sweden. Lebo Mothiba (Lille) and Lebogang Phiri (Guingamp) are also in France, but neither has ever played in the PSL.
There are currently no South Africans in first team squads in Spain and Germany, though Tashreeq Matthews will play for the Borussia Dortmund Under-19 side this season, while Joel Untersee is with Italian Serie A side Empoli, but was raised in Switzerland.
It doesn’t paint a great picture as to why scouts should come and look at the South African league when searching for players, but if Tau can shine on the big stage, it may turn a few more eyes in that direction.
Probably the best example of a player who went from South Africa directly to England was Lucas Radebe, still revered as a cult-figure at Leeds United, who at the time were a Premier League, and later Champions League, team.
Radebe did a lot to highlight the quality of South African players and perhaps paved the way later for the likes of Shaun Bartlett, Mark Fish and Eric Tinkler, who all arrived in England via other European leagues. And so while Tau will be eager to prove himself for obvious personal reasons, he also carries on his shoulders the hopes of players back home.