Mothiba’s breakthrough shows it takes Tau to tango
Bafana strikers faced a long, patient slog to the top
When striker Lebo Mothiba was signed by French Ligue 1 side Lille in June 2014, it would be the start of a journey that would require patience and perseverance before bearing fruit.
Both of those two traits are in short supply for many footballers, not just from South Africa, but Mothiba had shown that the wait for glory is worth it, if you are willing to keep working hard.
It would be three and a half years before he made his Ligue 1 debut, with injury to blame for delaying his progress initially, but he has showed now how valuable a strategic loan move to a new environment can be.
It is a story not dissimilar to that of Percy Tau, who saw his progress stunted at Mamelodi Sundowns before accepting a drop down the divisions on loan to find his form, fitness and fascination with the game again.
Tau could not work his way into the Sundowns first team, so joined his brothers Dumisani and the late Mogau at Witbank Spurs in the National First Division.He returned to the Brazilians at the end of the season and within months was an African Champions League winner, while 18 months later he is the spearhead of the national team attack and arguably the hottest property in the Premier Soccer League.
He had asked coach Pitso Mosimane for the move, taking a pay cut to boot, having not been willing to just watch his career pass him by despite collecting a handsome salary.
Mothiba has followed the same path, unable to break through at Lille with much more experienced players ahead of him, he accepted a drop down to Ligue 2 with Valenciennes in January 2017.
After a fruitful six months there, he was signed on loan for another year by the club, but such were his performances that just six months later Lille recalled him back to the top-flight.Now a player with games under his belt, greater experience and the confidence of scoring goals (he got nine in the first half of the season at Valenciennes), he netted on debut for Lille against Nantes and recently added another against powerhouse Monaco.
That form caught the eye of Bafana Bafana coach Stuart Baxter and suddenly Mothiba has two goals from his two caps, both well-taken strikes in the recent Four Nations tournament in Zambia, and his national team career is up and running.
Given their contrasting styles, playmaker Tau versus traditional number nine Mothiba, they could well form the front pairing for Bafana for many years to come.
And if they do, both will look back on their willingness to give up their lavish surroundings and go and graft in the lower leagues as being the turning points in their careers.
Too many other players are either too arrogant or too stubborn to do likewise, feeling it is beneath them and not able to see the obvious benefits.
Especially those players who move to Europe feel they have “arrived” and that they must be given their first-team chance without having to put in the hard yards first.
At the age of 22, Mothiba has the world at his feet, not just because he has skill and ability, but because he has the street-smarts and intelligence to know how to get a foot up in his career.
He and Tau are shining examples to the rest of us that sometimes you need to take a step backwards before you can move forward.