From a footballing family, Jordan Torunarigha broke into the Hertha Berlin first team in the final months of the 2016/2017 campaign. Having already been compared to his role model Jerome Boateng, the Germany Under-20 international will now look to nail down a starting place with the Old Lady.
By becoming a professional footballer, Torunarigha is treading the same path as his father, Ojokojo, and his older brother, Junior.
Ojokojo Torunarigha moved to Germany just as East and West were reuniting and the Nigerian attacker spent several years playing in Bundesliga 2 with Chemnitzer FC during the mid 1990s. He finished his playing career in Leipzig before moving to his current home in Berlin and there his son Junior linked up with Hertha’s academy. A striker, Junior passed through a handful of lower league German clubs but the 27-year-old now plays for Fortuna Sittard in the Dutch second tier.
Given that background, it is no surprise that Jordan Torunarigha quickly got the footballing bug.
Born in Chemnitz, he joined Hertha as a child in 2006 and signed his first professional contract in December 2016. The 19-year-old bucked the family trend by becoming a centre back but he had initially emulated his father and brother.
“I was also a forward,” he told Bild in January. “But my coach Ante Covic with the Under-15s had the idea to make me into a defender.”
That switch has done Torunarigha’s prospects no harm. He has represented Germany from Under-16 level on and in February 2017 he made his Bundesliga debut as a 90th-minute substitute in Hertha’s 1-0 win over Ingolstadt.
A month later, Torunarigha was thrown in against Hoffenheim after fellow academy graduate Maximilian Mittelstädt was red carded on 58 minutes. The Old Lady ultimately lost that game but Hertha boss Pal Dardai had seen enough from the substitute to give him his first start – at left-back – for the following week’s visit to Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Though Hertha lost 1-0, Torunarigha did not disappoint. He had watched videos of Bayern Munich’s David Alaba and Real Madrid full-back Marcelo to prepare for the game and felt he got to grips with Gladbach winger Patrick Herrmann once it got underway.
Among several crucial interventions, a last-ditch tackle on Thorgan Hazard in the very first minute caught the eye.
“It was a super start for him right from the beginning, when he saved a goal for us in extremis,” Hertha sporting director Michael Preetz told BZ. “He was alert for 90 minutes. We trust him a lot. It’s not to be taken for granted that he could complete his first start, away in Gladbach, so confidently.”
“He wasn’t playing in his proper position and he was fantastic,” Hertha attacker Salomon Kalou added.
Watch: See why Torunarigha won the Bundesliga's Rookie of the Month award in May.
Soon after that match, Dardai paid his new defender one of the biggest compliments possible. He said that Torunarigha reminded him of a Champions League and World Cup winner – Jerome Boateng.
The comparison with one of Berlin’s most famous footballing sons is apt. Like Boateng, Torunarigha is left-footed, mobile and comfortable on the ball. And like the Bayern star, he also enjoys playing long, raking passes out of defence.
“It’s true that I have actually learned that from Jerome Boateng’s playing style,” he told Bild in January. “But I still have to improve in many areas.”
Having coached Hertha’s youth teams, Dardai would have been aware of Torunarigha for a while. The Hungarian describes the teenager as incredibly strong in the air and feels his past as a striker is a huge advantage, giving him insight into how opposing forwards think and move.
The former Hertha midfielder thinks that Torunarigha will have a big future at the club once he smoothes off the edges to his game.
“Jordan is a really competitive type of guy – we can always rely on him in important matches,” Dardai told BZ in May. “That was already the case when he was younger. He’s a rough diamond that has to be polished a little bit more.”
Calm off the pitch and swift on it, Torunarigha made the most of Hertha’s injury problems to start every game in May. On Matchday 33 – in his seventh Bundesliga outing – he got his first goal for the club. A back-post header sealed a 2-0 win over Darmstadt and helped see Torunarigha voted the Bundesliga's Rookie of the Month.
His late-season form was all the more impressive considering he was finishing his final exams in secondary school at around the same time. And once the Bundesliga campaign was over, Torunarigha gained more valuable experience in South Korea – where he started three games for Germany at the Under-20 World Cup.
To help continue his development, Torunarigha can draw on his father’s experience. He still lived with his parents and his sister in Spandau during his breakthrough year and Ojokojo, who also spent time as a youth coach with Hertha, often helps him work on his technique.
If he is to become a mainstay for Hertha, Torunarigha would do well to heed his father’s advice: to make it to the top, you always have to work hard.
“If you want to become one of the best, then you also have to think like one of the best,” Torunarigha junior told BZ.
Wise words for any rising star to take note of.