At preschool age, when Jonathan Tah started out at Altona 93, a club from Hamburg steeped in tradition, he is said to have headed the ball from the edge of the box onto the crossbar. “I always played with the older kids and was still the biggest and strongest player on the pitch,” he remembers. Bayer Leverkusen’s 22-year-old centre-back, whose season was almost ended back in April, has been included in Die Mannschaft’s 27-man squad that is currently preparing for the World Cup at their South Tyrol training camp. In this interview, Tah speaks about his chances of being at the World Cup, as well as his Hamburg roots and the speedy recovery he made from his injury.
DFB.de: Mr. Tah, it’s said that one of your preschool teachers from a Kindergarten in Hamburg discovered you. Is that true?
Jonathan Tah: No, before that I played for Altona 93, but later I found out that that preschool teacher was the little sister of my first coach at HSV, and back then she did actually say that I was good. I come from Altona, I grew up there – it only took me ten minutes to ride to the club house on my bike. The city is multicultural, I always felt good there, but when I reached the U14s age group, I moved to HSV.
DFB.de: Altonaer 1893 FC was awarded a prize for integration around two months ago. What are your thoughts on that?
Tah: I didn’t know that, but it’s deserved. I always felt at home at Altona 93 and in my neighbourhood. We all just got along, our religion or the colour of our skin didn’t matter. Everyone had fun with one another. My father comes from the Ivory Coast, my mother is German. I grew up with the German culture and then in my family there’s also the African side. That culture has also always interested me, the music for example, and I’m proud of my African roots. Of course, I feel more at home in Germany, and I’m a Hamburg boy, but just as the President of Germany said recently: children of immigrants have two backgrounds – that’s how you can see it. Before, it was often said that immigrants aren’t at home in either country, but I think the opposite is true. You have your roots in both countries and cultures. For some that’s hard to understand, but the majority of people in Germany no longer have a problem with it.
DFB.de: A quick change of topic – what kid of music do you listen to at the moment?
Tah: (laughs) I think a lot of people know I like music. I listen to a lot of different stuff, of course including rap, American hip-hop, but also French rap. A lot of people listen to that nowadays, even Julian Brandt, even though you probably wouldn't expect that of him (laughs).
DFB.de: He is allegedly responsible for the music in the Leverkusen dressing room.
Tah: It used to be Hakan Calhanoğlu, but now it’s us two.
DFB.de: In April, you suffered a pulled muscle in your hip flexor. How serious was that injury?
Tah: Initially, my season was expected to be over, but I definitely didn’t want to slip into holiday mode, as if I were to be called up, I would need weeks to get fit. Therefore, along with Bayer’s medical staff, we set the target of being involved in the last game of the season against Hannover 96. We didn’t have a day off and worked very intensely. We went through with our plan and maybe I'm just someone who heals quickly.###more###
DFB.de: You featured for the full 90 minutes in the 3-2 home win over Hannover.
Tah: Yes, that was good.
DFB.de: Do you still feel anything from the injury?
Tah: Nothing, I’m 100 percent healthy and fit.
DFB.de: How have you found the first few training sessions here in Eppan?
Tah: It’s different compared to the U21s. The first few session were intense. Every player here is at a top level. As a group, we have worked well and that’s what we need now to get into rhythm.
DFB.de: The future is yours for the taking, but is it enough for you to know that you’ll be Germany’s centre-back at the next World Cup?
Tah: First of all, of course I’m happy to be here. If I go to Russia, I’ll be extremely happy about it; you always want the best for yourself. I’m just giving my all. I know my role here. I want to support the team as well as possible, maintain a high level, try hard and then we’ll see at the end of the training camp. I’m not a negative person. I’m taking everything in that I can.