Since Monday, the Germany U21s have been preparing for their first two games of the calendar year: Stefan Kuntz’s men welcome Israel to Braunschweig on Thursday in a European Championship qualifier, before travelling to Mitrovica to face Kosovo. Jonathan Tah spoke in a DFB.de interview about the imminent tasks in their qualification campaign and his role as captain of the team. The 22-year-old Bayer Leverkusen defender also revealed one of his biggest dreams as a professional footballer.
DFB.de: Jonathan Tah, after a four-month break from international football, the U21s are ready to kick-start the new year. How is it to be back in this surrounding?
Jonathan Tah: It’s actually been almost half a year for me because I missed the games in November through injury. It’s always special being with the DFB squad, I was very happy to see the lads and the coaching team again.
DFB.de: With the two wins in November, the Germany U21s climbed into first place in their qualification group. How will you approach the Israel and Kosovo games?
Tah: We don’t want to let our lead in the group slip – we want to stay there until the end of the qualifying campaign, so we need full concentration and need to play with confidence. Israel and Kosovo will be aggressive and determined to cause an upset against us, which means we’ll need to be mentally prepared for a fight. If we show our quality out on the pitch we’ll win both games.
DFB.de: How do you see your role as team captain?
Tah: I see myself as a link between coaches and players – my aim is to show that everyone in the U21s can come in and take responsibility. Unlike at our respective clubs, we’re all the same age here, everyone can assert themselves and take a lead. Aside from that, I’d like to help new players settle in.
DFB.de: We’re approaching the Bundesliga run-in and you are fighting for Champions League qualification with Bayer Leverkusen. Are you able to fully concentrate on the U21s in the middle of this?
Tah: Of course. We have a very clear goal with the U21s: to qualify for the European Championship next year. Everything happening at our clubs goes to the back of our mind; we all want to be successful with our clubs – whether that’s gaining promotion, avoiding relegation or qualifying for European competitions. It is good, however, to put all that to one side every now and then and concentrate on our aims with the Germany U21s, spend some times with the lads who have been together through all the youth teams.
DFB.de: 24 Bundesliga appearances, DFB Pokal semi-finals: How pleased are you with Leverkusen’s season so far, in particular your individual performances?
Tah: You can only judge a season at the end. We’d like to qualify for the Champions League and reach the DFB Pokal final in Berlin. I’m almost never satisfied with my own individual performances – I always think there are things that can be improved, so I’d like to work on making my performances even more consistent.
DFB.de: The DFB’s bid for hosting the 2024 European Championship is underway. UEFA will make their decision at the end of September – what would a European Championship in Germany mean for the country?
Tah: That would be fantastic. Germany is a proper football-nation; you only need to observe what goes on here when World Cups and EUROS are played in other countries. If one of these tournaments then comes to our own back yard, the excitement will only grow. As a player I’ve always dreamed of playing at a major international tournament. If I could experience something like this with the first team in 2024 it would be a highlight in my career.