Umut Tohumcu smiles, no, laughs from the bottom of his heart. The 18-year-old is enjoying the training session in the spring-like temperatures of Albufeira, Portugal – it's clear, visible for all to see. His childhood dream has come true: he is a Bundesliga football player. But when training is over, the midfielder shows a different side to his character. There is not much left of the self-confident and ambitious Tohumcu; instead, the young player appears reserved, almost shy in the often-cited "shark tank" that is professional football. The attention bestowed upon him in a SPIELFELD interview shortly afterwards even seems awkward for him. Umut Tohumcu much prefers to let his football do the talking.
Football has been a constant companion since his childhood and has changed his behaviour so much. "My father put a ball in my bed when I was a baby. We always talk about football and sometimes go for a kick-about together. This sport means everything to us," said Tohumcu. Since his youth, the Offenburg native has dreamt of playing professional football. And he has sacrificed a lot to achieve this dream. He left the family home at the age of 13 and moved into the TSG Hoffenheim boarding school. And the brother of four siblings did so despite being – according to his own self-description – a family man through and through: "I had doubts about whether I'd make it because I was always a bit scared and shy as a child. After a year, I also got a little homesick, but my parents were super supportive and I'm glad I took this step. It was definitely the right decision."
"It fits my personality on the pitch to lead the way."
Since making the move in 2017, the midfielder has developed into a leading player in the youth set-up. Tohumcu, who was born in 2004, is still eligible to play for the A-Juniors this season, but he started the campaign as a firm fixture in the U23 squad before then being promoted to the first team over the winter break. The experience of the past few years has made him stronger and also louder on the pitch. "I'm not as shy as I used to be. And I just feel more comfortable on the pitch anyway," said Tohumcu, who has received recognition from his coaches for that. At times, he even wore the captain's armband for "Hoffe zwo" – a role he revels in: "It fits my personality on the pitch to lead the way. I also wear the captain's armband for the U19 national team. I'm honoured that the coaches trust me. I'm very ambitious and want to support my team-mates on the pitch."
Tohumcu has developed into a leading figure and a standout performer for the TSG reserves – and not only due to the captaincy. The junior international pulls the strings in central midfield and boasts an impressive haul of 10 scorer points, despite his more defensive position. In the past, he played much more offensively and was even a striker at times. "I became more defensive over the years and then, under former coach Marcel Rapp, I was suddenly deployed off the ball as part of a double-pivot for the U19s. Of course, I miss being more attacking and scoring more goals from time to time. But I think it's my best position; I can use my tackling ability and influence the game more," said Tohumcu.
And his performances did not go unnoticed. This winter, the midfielder spent the entire preparation period with the first team. It was his reward for years of good work at the TSG academy. He had already made his Bundesliga debut the previous summer. On Matchday 34 of last season, Tohumcu made his first appearance – at the age of just 17 – when he was substituted on shortly before the end of the match away to Borussia Mönchengladbach. "When the coach told me I was going to come on, I blanked everything out. It was suddenly very quiet and I got all nervous. It felt like an explosion of emotion. Even though we lost and I only played a few minutes, it was an incredibly nice moment."
Tohumcu experienced his first major highlight almost six years ago. The youngster became a focal point for fans and journalists on 10 September 2017, even though he was still a long way away from his first professional appearance. Then a ball boy, Tohumcu showed presence of mind in a 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich and threw the ball to Andrej Kramarić lightning-fast. The striker quickly took the throw-in, setting up Mark Uth's goal to make it 1-0 – and ensuring Umut Tohumcu's first goal involvement in the Bundesliga, almost five years before his first appearance. "It was incredible. The ball rolled out of play, Andrej came up to me and wanted my ball. It then happened very quickly and suddenly the goal was scored," the Croat's current team-mate said as he recalled the incident.
The attention Umut Tohumcu, who has Turkish roots, had to deal with afterwards was beyond his imagination: "Journalists came up to me as early as half-time, they wanted to take a photo and get my contact details. After the game, there were an unbelievable number of articles about the incident and my friends were asking me about it at school. It was huge."
But Umut Tohumcu is much more than a ball boy who enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame. The talented midfielder wants to prove himself in first-team training and showcase himself for further gametime. In keeping with his character, Umut Tohumcu has yet to address his new team-mate about the incident in September 2017, despite training alongside him over the winter. "I don't know if Andrej even remembers the incident and still knows that it was me," he said reservedly. But he is now no longer the ball boy sharing an assist with Andrej Kramarić; instead, he trains and plays alongside the Croatian 2018 World Cup finalist and 2022 World Cup bronze medallist. Times have changed. And now Tohumcu is hoping to set up a Bundesliga goal for TSG's record goalscorer. And not just throw the ball to him.
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