Jonathan Tah: Bayer Leverkusen's defensive rock - and the next Jerome Boateng?
When a player makes his Bundesliga debut at the age of 17, it's usually a good sign.
Take colossal central defender Jonathan Tah. In August 2013, he became the youngest debutant ever to pull on a Hamburg shirt. Now, at just 22, he's the bedrock of a Bayer Leverkusen side chasing UEFA Champions League football.
"Jonathan has come on leaps and bounds at Leverkusen, he's surpassed all expectation and now ranks as one of Germany’s best defenders," said Bayer sporting director Rudi Völler last month, after Tah penned a three-year contract extension through to summer 2023. "It's no surprise that he's interesting so many top clubs, but he knows what he has at Leverkusen and wants to continue his current trajectory."
The Hamburg native appeared to be on a one-way ticket to the top, long before his move to Leverkusen. He was snapped up by Hamburg at the age of 13 and fast-tracked through the ranks of the Bundesliga's only ever-present founding member, but after falling out of favour under Mirko Slomka in 2013/14, the former Germany Under-19 captain's search for first-team football took him on loan to Bundesliga 2 outfit Fortuna Düsseldorf. It turned out to be a win-win situation for all concerned.
Promotion hopefuls Fortuna acquired a player with prior Bundesliga know-how, and Tah had the ideal stage on which to rebuild his confidence and show parent club Hamburg exactly what they were missing. Although Düsseldorf finished the 2014/15 campaign 14 points adrift of the promotion places, Tah's time in the shop window proved a roaring success. Impressed by his positional sense and aerial prowess, Leverkusen made their move. "Jonathan is quick, technical and tough," enthused Völler at the time. "He can still improve in all areas, but we know how important he’s going to be for us."