It’s not a good time to be a Hamburg fan. With the club sinking like a stone in the Bundesliga table and Bert van Marwijk’s appointment as coach failing to rectify the situation, the contract saga surrounding young defender Jonathan Tah will not come as welcome news.
The young defender is perhaps the only bright stop in the club’s season. He became the club’s youngest-ever player in the DFB-Pokal first round win over Schott Jena when he replaced club skipper Heiko Westermann late on. He subsequently began the season as fourth-choice centre-back, but a series of accomplished performances over the months have seen him shoot up the pecking order.
Just over a year ago, when Tah was approaching his 17th birthday, he committed his future to the club, signing a new deal that expired in the summer of 2016, before extending his stay until 2018 in early November.
It seemed simple enough, but that’s where it got complicated. Details of the contract were leaked to Bild this week indicating that the deal may have contravened Fifa convention, which state that a minor cannot sign one worth more than three years.
HSV countered, claiming that the agreement was perfectly legal as he had merely extended his existing contract for a further two seasons. Fingers were pointed at the player’s father and a friend of his agent. Tah, meanwhile, merely said: “It’s certainly not a nice story.”
Controversy, aside, Tah has set about proving himself on the pitch since his expedited entrance in the first team and he has shown in his short career that he has all the ingredients to become a top defender.
Despite his young age, he has matured physically and, standing at 6’3″, he is a tricky customer in the air. That’s not his only attribute, though. For a player of his size, he is deceptively quick, helping him recover many threatening positions in the HSV defence.
He is also a very clean tackler and very reliable in last-man situations, and is yet to pick up a booking in any of his 13 Bundesliga appearances.
Though Hamburg’s defence have been anything but reliable this term, conceding 44 goals (more than any other team) he has good role models at the Imtech Arena.
He has ex-Arsenal defender Johan Djourou for company, and the the 27-year-old has already pledged to help his young team-mate, who is also of Ivorian descent. “If he needs advice, he gets it,” he said in November. “We talk a lot, mostly in French.”
Tah has pledged his international future to Germany, not Cote d’Ivoire, though, and has turned out for the Under-17 team 13 times. With that in mind, he could also look to Westermann for inspiration.
Now 30, his club skipper has become a fixture in the Nationalelf set-up of late after a period in the wilderness and is one of the Bundesliga’s most experienced centre-backs.
Manchester City are known to be interested in Tah’s services, but his more immediate future lies at his hometown club, fighting for Bundesliga survival. With the likes of Rafael van der Vaart pulling the strings for the forwards, the stopper might be exactly what they need to hold the fort at the back.
In the future, though, he seems destined for bigger and better things and soon enough he’ll be fighting it out for a place in the Germany squad.