By Robson Sharuko
Harare - English Premiership football club, Brighton and Hove Albion, took a massive gamble when they splashed R50 million on highly rated South African forward Percy Tau on a four-year deal this year.
Now, the club’s 48-year-old billionaire gambling owner, Anthony Grant Bloom, is also taking another huge gamble by seconding Tau to Belgium to learn the challenges of playing European football.
The 24-year-old Tau will have to take the route, which the likes of Yaya and Kolo Toure took before he can plunge into action in the English Premiership after Brighton and Hove Albion chose to send him on a season-long loan to Belgium to adjust to the demands of European football.
The Bafana Bafana winger was the only Southern African footballer to crack into the English Premiership during the last transfer window when he left South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns to join Brighton and Hove Albion on a four-year deal.
Tau will not be rushed into the tough world of the English Premiership, where the demands are higher to what he was used to back home in South Africa, and he will spend the first of his four years at a Belgian second-tier side which belongs to the billionaire owner of his parent club, Anthony Grant Bloom. Brighton Albion officials don’t want to repeat the mistake which their colleagues at German Bundesliga side TSG Hoffenheim made when they brought a 21-year-old Knowledge Musona of Zimbabwe from South Africa for R19.5 million in 2011, on a four-year deal, and threw him straight into the battleground.
The Zimbabwean forward, who had left Kaizer Chiefs after establishing himself as the best player in the South African Premiership, quickly found out that there was a huge difference between Supa Diski and the Bundesliga and failed to score in the 16 matches he featured for Hoffenheim.
Musona was then loaned to Augsburg where he again failed to make an impact, as his confidence waned, and failed to score in the 14 games he played for them.
The Warriors skipper was then brought back to Kaizer Chiefs as his club tried to rebuild his confidence and, after impressing for the Amakhosi in his second spell, was then sold to Belgian side KV Oostende.
He thrived at Oostende and this year he moved to an even bigger Belgian club Anderlecht.
Now, Brighton and Hove have devised a plan to try and help Tau, one of the best talents to emerge in South Africa in recent years, and he will this season play for Belgian second-tier side Royale Union Saint-Gilloise on loan.
The Belgian club is owned by the same billionaire Englishman, Bloom, who also owns Brighton and Hove.
Union Saint-Gilloise have been champions of Belgium 11 times with their last title coming way back in 1935 and have also been runners-up in the country’s top-flight league eight times with the last time this happened coming in 1924.
They have largely been converted into a club that now concentrates more on the development of players as part of Bloom’s vision to strengthen his man football project, Brighton and Hove.
“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to invest in a club with such a proud tradition,” the billionaire businessman with a passion for gambling said when he acquired the majority of the stake in the club.
“Union SG is part of the history of Belgian football and has enjoyed tremendous success in the past. We look forward to a successful future for the club and the fans.”
Bloom likes to take his chances, after all, he built his fortune as a sports bettor and property investor, and he was so good they even nicknamed him “The Lizard”. “I’ve been a football fan and a gambler since the age of about seven or eight. My interest in both developed at the same time,” he said when he acquired Brighton.
“Poker gives you a good grounding in lots of things, including reading situations and reading people and making tough decisions. Those skills can be used in business and certainly in running a football club.”
The honestbettingreviews.com website did a feature on Bloom, under the headline, “From Poker Star to Billionaire Gambler”, in which they painted a picture of a man who likes to take his chances.
“He is a secretive figure who has given few interviews,” the website said. “He has said ‘I wanted to gamble because I enjoyed it and, therefore, I needed to do it properly in order to win.’
“He certainly did that and to help he set up the secretive company Starlizard; a huge sports betting operation that supports his football betting passion. “Located in Camden’s somewhat unremarkable Iceworks building, Starlizard is a football betting syndicate that likes to keep what it does as secret as possible. There is no company sign or logo over the door of the Iceworks; its windows are glazed with reflective glass making it difficult to peer in on what’s happening inside.
“Although there is a website that offers some clues as to what the business does and it seems that there are always available positions to be filled by the right applicants. Currently, the company has around 160 employees.”
The English billionaire has taken a gamble on Percy Tau and, hopefully, everything will work out according to plan.
“Percy is a talent we have brought to the club for the future, and this loan allows him to play regular senior football here in Europe,” Brighton’s Development pathway manager David Weir told the English club’s website.
“It is a significant investment for us, and we will be closely watching his progress with Union and monitoring his development over the season.”
Brighton manager, Chris Hughton, had hinted that Tau will not be rushed into the tough English Premiership in his first season in Europe for fear this could expose him and destroy his confidence.
“Percy will go out on loan this season, play regularly and get some experience of European football,” he said. ”We will be watching his progress and monitoring his development over the season.”
It’s a route travelled by others before.
One of the finest African players of all-time, Yaya Toure, started his European adventure in Belgium in 2001 at modest club Beveren where he made 70 appearances and scored three goals.
He soon went to play for Greek side Olympiacos before moving to Barcelona where he won the La Liga title twice and also the UEFA Champions League.
Toure transformed himself into a Manchester City legend during his spell at the club where he won three English Premiership titles, playing 203 matches and scoring 59 goals.