John Anthony Brooks: let the ball do the talking

John Anthony Brooks moved to TSG Hoffenheim from Benfica at the end of January to improve the side's defence. After a tough start, the Berlin-born American international has developed into a pillar of strength in the TSG backline. The 30-year-old defender tends to avoid interviews, but he made an exception for SPIELFELD.

The private person John Anthony Brooks is very different to John Anthony Brooks the football player. On the pitch the American doesn't go unnoticed, as he sets the tone at the heart of defence through his towering performances and vocal leadership. Away from the pitch, however, the defender prefers to go about life in a quieter fashion. The 30-year-old shies away from the spotlight. He isn't on any social media platforms and prefers to avoid giving interviews: ''Everything I have to say I say in the dressing room. I don't have to voice my opinions externally and then read about it in the newspapers afterwards.''

Although Brooks prefers to let his feet do the talking, he has a lot to tell from his life outside of football. The story of his life and career development is one with many interesting chapters. But the central defender – whose dad was from Chicago, but grew up in Berlin's Tempelhof district – prefers to focus on the sporting side of things. His first steps at TSG were far from ordinary; at the end of January he was instantly moved into the starting XI for his debut against Mönchengladbach – despite the fact that prior to this he had only played two minutes of football this season for Benfica in Portugal. "It's the first time I experienced a period like this in my career. Since I've turned pro, I've more or less always played - except for times I've been injured. I underestimated how important it is to be in rhythm," says Brooks. It took him a while to get back into shape and reach the level he was happy with. He even found himself on the substitutes' bench in the games against Dortmund and in Mainz. "Of course, I had imagined getting started a bit differently. In the meantime, I'm at a level where I feel more comfortable and am able to help the team," says Brooks. This first chapter has been a formative one. 

But the team's form soon took an upward turn. Against his former club, Hertha BSC, Brooks and his teammates sparked a turn in fortunes. In the 3-1 win over the club where he learned his trade, not to mention the weeks that followed, he was an imposing rock at the heart of the TSG defence. He has headed countless crosses clear of the TSG penalty area in recent weeks and fearlessly thrown his body in the way of opposition shots. It was these exact qualities it was hoped he would bring to the team. And Brooks delivered. "Jay is a seasoned defender, strong in the tackle and the air, who has already proven his capabilities in over 200 Bundesliga games. With his experience, his vision and his presence, he will help to bring more stability to our defence," said sporting director Alexander Rosen at his official unveiling. And coach Pellegrino Matarazzo sees Brooks as an important pillar within the team.

He is also an important discussion partner for the Hoffenheim coach. The two Americans regularly have one-on-one conversations in English. ''Jay is a leader for us. He offers so much through his experience and communication on the pitch," says Matarazzo. Brooks' outstanding aerial ability and his uncompromising approach provide great security at the back. What is more, the left-footer is able to set the tone in build-up play through his pace and vision. 

At former clubs Hertha BSC and VfL Wolfsburg, the defender twice went through the battle against relegation - but the memories vary: "At Hertha, I didn't really notice it at all, because as a young player I was just happy that I was able to play. I associate my time in Berlin mostly with getting promoted to the Bundesliga and the two years when we played in Europe. Then, when I played for Wolfsburg in the relegation play-off against Kiel, I had just come back from injury and was just happy to be back on the pitch."

The situation at TSG felt different, as Brooks is keen to emphasise: "I was brought here to stabilise the defence and everyone was clear about the objective we were pursuing.'' Brooks has no doubt that this will be achieved. "This season we have not been able to perform as a team in the way we had hoped. We soon had to accept that we were facing a battle to remain in the Bundesliga. But everyone has grasped the severity of the situation and I'm looking ahead to the next few weeks full of confidence."

Although he is now facing relegation fears for the third time in his career, his career is in fact one which has been characterised by sporting success. Born in Berlin, he made his debut for Hertha in the Bundesliga 2 at the age of 19 and immediately became a nailed-on starter. At 20, he received his first call-up to the senior USA national team, and at 21, he was part of the squad at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was here that he experienced the greatest moment of his career so far, even though he had assumed that, as a youngster, he would merely be filling out the squad. "I was super proud that I was able to be there at all,'' he recalls. 

But in the first group match against Ghana, starter Matt Besler went down injured. Brooks came on to replace him in the second half and was crowned the hero of the hour after heading in a corner in the 86th minute to clinch a 2-1 win and set coach Jürgen Klinsmann's team on their way to the last 16. "Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. Actually, you can't put it into words. Somehow the boys managed to get the ball onto my head. I will never forget that moment," said Brooks. Immediately after his goal, he was overcome with emotion. "I didn't even know what to do afterwards. I was just stunned and overjoyed," says Brooks almost nine years later with a glint in his eyes.

Just a year before that memorable goal, Brooks was facing a decision about which country to represent in the future. With a father from the USA and a German mother, he was torn between the two nations. "I was very interested in US culture at the time and wanted to get to know it better. I always spoke English with my father and also went to an English-speaking school, but otherwise I had a German life. For me, travelling with the national team at that time was also a chance to learn more about my father's origins," explains Brooks . The decision paid off: he made a total of 45 international appearances between August 2013 and September 2021.

The TSG defender, who has a deal with the club until 30 June 2024, has been pondering whether more international caps could come in future."I think if I perform well here, I can still be an option for the national team. I'm not that old yet," Brooks says with a laugh. In three years, when the World Cup is held in the USA, he will be 33, but he prefers to focus on the here and now: "Playing regularly in the Bundesliga again is fantastic and it makes me very happy. Now, for the time being, the job is to ensure TSG stay in the league."

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