How Bright Can Bayer Leverkusen’s Jonathan Tah Shine?

With most of the season gone, many would probably pick Javier Hernandez as the undoubted star performer for Bayer Leverkusen, but their topsy-turvy season would have looked much worse without a certain 20 year-old in their backline.

When Hamburg first started Tah at home to Werder Bremen, it was just the beginning to his rise to the top level. He went on to feature 16 times in the Bundesliga for Hamburg during the 2013-2014 season. While other 18 year-olds were busy drinking and partying, Tah was saving his club from the brink of relegation.

However, due to complications in his contract and conflict between player and club, Tah was sent on loan to 2.Bundesliga club Fortuna Dusseldorf. He participated in 23 league outings for Dusseldorf but it was soon apparent that he belonged in the first division. It seemed like a no-brainer that he was picked up the following season by Champions league regulars, Bayer Leverkusen. So far he has played 2025 of a possible 2250 minutes of Leverkusen’s Bundesliga campaign. Not bad for someone who just celebrated his 20th birthday.

At 6’4, 198 pounds it suffices to say that he has a physical advantage over most players. Jerome Boateng comes to mind when one sees Tah gliding along the pitch, going past players with ease. But his somatotype is not the only trait that he shares with the Bayern stalwart; his distribution is also at a similar level. It is truly extraordinary to see someone so large with technique most midfielders would be jealous of. You could say that he has it all: physique, passing, good anticipation of play but most of all, his ability to play clean. If stats speak for themselves then his singular yellow card in the Bundesliga must speak volumes. He is already making his € 7.5 million transfer fee look like a bargain.
Comparing statistics

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It is clear to see that Tah is right at home fighting amongst the best every single weekend in the Bundesliga. Even Jerome Boateng cannot compete with the number of interceptions and tackles Tah dishes out. However, stats are sometimes tainted by certain intangibles that cannot be mapped out. Since Boateng plays in hugely dominant Bayern Munich side, he has more passes and less defensive duties to adhere to; but take nothing away from the Hamburg native, in any these numbers are truly astonishing.

If he keeps up his impressive performances he could be the dark horse for making the Germany squad for the 2016 Euros. Capable of playing in the centre and even at right back, his versatility would be a great asset for German Coach Joachim Low, who seems to love playing an all centre-back backline  as seen in the World Cup. With Per Metersacker and Philip Lahm both retiring from international duty, a perfect opportunity for the young German backliner to stake his claim at European glory.  Tah hasn’t had a senior squad callup as of yet, but the Hamburg native has represented Germany 27 times at the youth level.

For defenders, it is harder to get recognition and to track progress, than it is for midfielders and forwards. Sure goals, tackles, aerial duels won can be looked at but the true mark of a good defender is in his positioning and communication, so that he doesn’t HAVE to pull off a last-ditch tackle.

Consistency gives us the best understanding of the quality of a defender. The fact that Tah has relegated Kyriakos Papadopoulos, a seasoned Bundesliga veteran and Greek international, to the bench so quickly should give an indication of things to come. If everything continues in its upward trajectory don’t be too surprised to see Tah making a move to Bayern Munich or one of the larger Premier League Clubs in a few years’ time. Meanwhile, does Roger Schmidt have a future German captain in his ranks?

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Noel Shallum is a student living in Sharjah, UAE. His love for football spans a decade amd he found his 'echte liebe' in Dortmund. Would love to learn German someday.