Mustafa Saeed takes a lot at Borussia Dortmund new signing Jeremy Toljan
Almost two decades ago and following a catastrophic showing in the European championships, there was a shift in emphasis within German football. The football directors in Germany have recognized that the game had passed them by, both technically and tactically. A restructuring was on the cards, with greater emphasis to be placed on youth development at all levels of the game.
This restructuring led to the implementation of many development centers around the country and increase of the number of qualified coaches. Professional clubs were required to have a youth academy with various checks and measures to ensure meeting the required standards.
These requirements have had the desired effect with the national team winning the World Cup in 2014 and consistently playing the type of football that was envisioned when the shift was first suggested.
Fast forward to 2017 and the results of the improved coaching and development strategies are being firmly felt. The Bundesliga is awash with young players that have been developed at their clubs and have been exposure for first team football; paving the Germans’ way for attaining the U21 Euro, also winning the FIFA Confederations cup despite keeping the senior first-team players at home.
One of the most promising of these young players is Jeremy Toljan, who was recently signed by Borussia Dortmund from Hoffenheim. The 23 year-old enjoyed an impressive campaign with Germany’s Euro-winning U21 team, eventually being named in the team of the tournament. The defender also played a crucial role in Hoffenheim’s highest ever finish in the Bundesliga last season.
Who is Jeremy Toljan?
Jeremy Toljan was born in Stuttgart on the 8 of August 1994. He took his first steps into football at the age of 10, playing at the youth stages of local sides SV Grun-Weiss Sommerrian and TSV Steinhaldenfeld, before moving to Stuttgarter Kickers- the former club of German legend Jurgen Klinsmann- in 2008.
From there he progressed to VFB Stuttgart, before making the switch to Hoffenheim and it was there when Toljan’s career began to blossom.
In his first season with the village club,Toljan was limited to a couple of appearances on the bench for the second team. But in 2012/2013, he broke into this side and turned up regularly in the Under-19 Bundesliga too.
Even though Hoffenheim were far from safe in the 16th place, Toljan got a taste of first-team action towards the end of the same, lucky season for him. He was named as a substitute of the three of the final four games of the campaign, but did not come on as relegation was avoided with a 5-1 playoff win over FC Kaiserslautern.
Eight weeks into the new season, Toljan made his debut against Mainz. Pinched in at the left-back position, Hoffenheim went 2-o up before conceding a dramatic comeback in the last eight minutes of the game.
It was a tough introduction to life in the German first tier, but Toljan hasn’t looked back. He finished his breakthrough season with ten first-team appearances and was an unused substitute 21 times.
He has since become a regular for Hoffenheim, playing on either side of defence or in more advanced wingback roles. Also, he was part of the Germany squad which won silver at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
His international honors didn’t stop there despite his young age as the dynamic fullback vastly contributed to his country recent U21 Euro win with outstanding performances throughout the competition, crowned by 3 assists to his name.
What is his style of play?
Toljan is very much the prototypical modern footballer. He’s found his first-team niche at right-back, a position that he seems to have been born to play in, especially in recent times.
Physically strong and very quick, Toljan has the capacity to support in both the defensive and attacking phases. He recovers his position well and reads the game effectively enough to provide good cover for his defensive teammates.
The modern day full-back must boast speed and stamina to charge up and down the line constantly. He is also expected to be composed and precise enough to deliver a steady stream of crosses in the final third. The defensive sense surely is an innate prerequisite for a fullback.
The rare combination of these major prerequisites explains the demented demand of the position in recent times. But, Toljan who is yet to be any sort of high horse in this regard, certainly has the instincts and potential to reach the aforementioned heights if managed properly.
What are his strengths?
Although his development has been stunted by lack of first team opportunities, Toljan is still regarded as one of Germany’s brightest young defensive prospects and it’s easy to see why.
His versatility obviously tops the list; being capable of playing either right or left as well as in midfield elevate him far beyond rising prospects of his age.
Furthermore, he boasts of great physical attributes and shows good technical qualities. All contribute to his rapid and swift style, paving his way to roam forward and help his team on the front foot.
His performances at the U21 Euros are a solid reflection of what Toljan is capable of. In the semi-final shoot-out win over England, Toljan was arguably the Man of the Match and spent most of the game high up the pitch as a winger tormenting, Leicester’s Ben Chilwell with his eye-catching turn of pace. He also set up the winning goal in the final against Spain.
Winning 59% of his attempted tackles, also completing 31 interceptions and 34 clearances last season bring to the fore the promising signs on his contribution to defense.
What are his weaknesses?
Toljan’s main weakness must be his concentration, which has become most visible in his defensive performance, especially regarding his positioning and tactical awareness. It’s not a question of basic qualities that he needs to improve or acquire, but instead showing constant preparedness to use his defensive tendency effectively and without negative intervals that might compromise his contribution to the team.
Despite creating 15 chances and assisting one goal for his club last season, the German U21 international completed a disappointing 23% of his attempted take-ons, which clearly can be improved upon given his agility and great technical qualities, working on this would certainly improve his effectiveness going forward and also would lessen the chances of losing position in dangerous areas.
In spite of this, the main weaknesses in Toljan’s game can be addressed with experience and disciplined management. Sealing a move to Dortmund is a step in that direction; given their staggering record in developing young talents. The arrival of Peter Bosz, who had worked miracles with Ajax’s young squad, is likely to help Toljan a lot.
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