May 15th 2010. On that very day Kevin Prince Boateng undertook the transition from being regarded as one of the most talented, yet difficult to manage, footballers to the most hated man among German football fans. It’s the 36th minute of the FA Cup final between Portsmouth and Chelsea. Michael Ballack is on his way to the World Cup to captain the German national team, but at this very moment a brutal tackle from behind by Boateng puts an end to those ambitions. The tackle is late, nasty and unnecessary.
The German press chose the easiest way and portrayed Boateng as a violent and unhinged boor on the pitch. For them the picture had become clear after Boateng put in his tackle on Ballack. One year earlier the midfielder was also banned for the last few matches of the season during his stay in Dortmund after he had kicked Makato Hasabe’s head during a Bundesliga match.
However, there was something that was drowned out of the conversation at the time: Boateng’s sheer talent. It was spotted early on at the age of 7 when a youth coach of Hertha saw him play ball at football cage in the borough of Wedding. After joining the Old Lady ‘the kid from the ghetto Wedding’ as the German magazine Stern once called him managed to get from the youth team to the now legendary Hertha U23 side that included such players as Patrick Ebert, Sejad Salihovic and Ashkan Dejagah.
Early the midfielder developed a talent to enthuse an entire team, which during his days at Hertha’s second team. Despite many older talented players being within that now legendary side, it was Boateng who was the leader of that team.
After his Bundesliga debut for Hertha back in 2005 Prince Boateng gradually started to get more and more playing together with his half-brother Jérôme. “You’d either become a drug dealer, gangster or footballer”, the midfielder had stated about Wedding and now he had made it. Hertha was going to be his team for some time to come Boateng thought to himself, but then came coach Falko Götz. In an interview with the German press the former GDR international said:
“Kevin has many siblings, and every single one of them has a different father. That is not a flaw. Berlin is a multicultural city after all.”
Both Kevin and his half-brother Jérôme weren’t enthused about this statement (to say the least). The two of them confronted Götz after the next training session, but instead of getting an apology the coach stood by his remarks. Hertha’s officials weren’t really getting what the youngsters were making a fuss about and in the end both of them were sold on after the 2006/07 season. At that point Boateng had managed to score 4 goals during his 42 matches for the club from the capital.
The chameleon from Wedding
Hertha needed money and the 7.9 million Euros on offer from Tottenham were as good as it got, manager Dieter Hoeness thought to himself. His older brother George had told Boa that he was a “chameleon, like all boys from Berlin”. For the eldest of the Boateng brothers it was clear that the Prince of the bunch could make it anywhere in the world.
In retrospect, Prince Boateng wasn’t too happy with the move. He told 11 Freunde:
“I was used to make some money(for the club), and I was forced to take that step.”
When pre-season training came to a close Spurs manager Martin Jol told his new arrival that he wasn’t planning on giving him a chance. Boateng spent his money on booze and fast cars instead. At times he could spend as much as 10,000 pounds a night on drinks.
“For a short period of time I didn’t care about sitting in the stands, not playing with the first team and playing in front of three people with the second team. But, after four weeks the cars got boring and the everyday problems came back at me very forcefully.”
The midfielders first marriage ended during his tumultuous days in London. Both his wife and his son moved back to Germany, leaving Boateng all by himself in England. During that time the unhealthy food and the drink had gotten to the player, more specifically his waistline, as he was weighing a whopping 95 kilos. The existence as a fringe player wasn’t satisfying for both the player and his club, and in the end Boateng was loaned out to Borussia Dortmund for half a season.
The start of 2009 should also be the turnaround for the midfielder’s career. Jürgen Klopp knows how to handle a difficult player, and even to this very day Boateng talks about the former Dortmund coach as the best manager he has had during his career. Klopp himself didn’t see a bad boy, but one of the most talented footballers that he had ever worked with. Boateng could control a ball in more than 100 ways, he would always have a dozen options available to himself to get past his opponent and because of his strength and his strong perception of the game he could pass the ball at precisely the right moment according to Klopp.
Despite only playing 10 matches during the Rückrunde of the 2008/09 season Boateng had shown enough for U21 national team coach Horst Hrubesch to include him in his U21 EURO squad. However, the madness of the midfielder came to the forefront once again when a tour of the Berlin nightlife with his buddy Patrick Ebert ended with the two of them allegedly kicking in the side-mirror on 13 cars. And shortly before the squad was ready to leave for the tournament in Sweden Boateng managed to stay out 1 hour past his curfew during another trip to a disco. Coach Hrubesch was not amused and dropped the talented youngster from his squad.
Despite these two lapses the midfielder managed to play a decent season for his new club Portsmouth. The highlight of the season came during the FA Cup semi-final against Prince Boateng’s former club Tottenham. During extra time he played the pass leading to the first goal of the match, before crowning his performance with the 2-0 goal that put the game out of reach for Spurs.
Seeing off Gattuso and Ronaldinho
Despite the tackle on Ballack and the falling out with the DFB, AC Milan came along and took a chance on Pringe Boateng after the 2010 World Cup. During his first season the Ghanian international tackled Gennaro Gattuso off the pitch 10 minutes into his first training session with the Rossoneri. From there on out Prince Boateng finds himself in the starting line up more often than not. Gattuso on the other hand side played his last season for the club.
In his 26 matches in Serie A Boa finds himself both in attacking and right midfield. His performances earn him the respect of the public and his outgoing personality makes for a nice change from the otherwise so clean and sober image that Silvio Berlusconi’s club has cultivated over the years. At the end of the season his moonwalk during AC’s championship celebration grabs the headlines.
The following season KPB is given even more responsibilities for the 2011/12 campaign, as he takes over for Ronaldinho, who leaves the club as the Wedding boy pushes him out of the team. However, injuries hold him back at times and Boa ends up playing only 19 matches. Despite the rather limited amount of playing time the attacking midfielder ends up being involved in a total of 11 goals(5 goals, 6 assists). One of the season’s highlights in Serie A was Boateng’s hattrick against US Lecce. The midfielder was subbed on during half time as the Rossoneri were 3-0 down. After 14 minutes on the pitch the attacker had singlehandedly turned the deficit into a 3-3 draw. In the end Milan won the match 4-3.
The next season is tough for both the Berlin born midfielder and his club.During the season Boateng made international headlines during a friendly between his club and fourth tier side Aurora Pro Patria. As the match had kicked off both Boateng and other Milan players were targets of racist chants from the stands. After complaining several times to the referee without seeing anything getting done KPB took matters in his own hands. Upon receiving the ball in the 26th minute he started a dribble, followed it up by kicking the ball into the stands before leaving the pitch whilst taking his shirt off. His teammates followed Prince Boateng off the pitch, clearly setting a sign against racism coming rom the stands.
A third place finish 15 points behind a newly invigorated Juve side is disappointing for both the team and fans. Furthermore, the squad has been through a number of changes as some of the main stay players like Seedorf and Pirlo have left the team. After three years in the limelight in Italy’s fashion city, it seems like the time has come for KPB to move on.
Keller days at Schalke
There was seemingly a fit between the glitz and glamour of Milan and Prince Boateng. That is why some people were surprised that the midfielder with a certain flair decided to opt for a move to Schalke, a club with a long and strong tradition of emphasising working class values both on and off the pitch.
However, at first it seemed like KPB could induce the team with some energy at just the right moments as the Royal Blues topsy-turvy season varied between the media asking for heads to roll at several points. However, 6 goals and 4 assists made Boa one of the most valuable players in Jens Keller’s midfield. Additionally he also brought his understanding of the game to the table. Both sporting director Horst Heldt and coach Jens Keller were said to be upset when the midfielder changed Keller’s tactics on the pitch all by himself during the match against Werder Bremen. However, the change steadied the team and Schalke managed to get an equaliser after Boa had promoted himself to become player coach.
If things were turbulent during the reign of Jens Keller, things went from bad to worse during Robert di Matteo’s tenure at Schalke 04. During that time both Prince Boateng and the team suffered from the former Chelsea manager’s negative tactics. In the season before KPB spelled danger, but under the Swiss’s leadership he often times went missing during matches. No goals and only 4 assists from the 18 matches he got speak volumes about how much the midfielder and his teammates were struggling at the time.
In the end Schalke decided to stick it out with di Matteo and sporting director Horst Heldt, but both were ultimately let go at the end of the season. Before they left Boa managed to get suspended indefinitely after his attitude on the pitch in the match against 1. FC Köln left a lot to be desired according to the officials. Besides the midfielder his fellow teammates Sidney Sam and Marco Höger were also suspended. After the Schalke’s officials stance it had become clear that it was time to move on.
It’s now or never – Can Boateng conquer the Bundesliga with the Eagles?
At first the midfielder went back to AC Milan and had another half a season there in 2016. At the start of the 2016/17 season he signed a deal at Spanish La Liga outfit UD Las Palmas. It might have been a strange choice for a guy who had attracted big name clubs in the past, but it turned out to be the right thing to do. Boa’s 10 goals and 5 assists were vital in keeping the small club in the league.
However, despite a three year contract extension after the first season Boateng and the club agreed that his contract should be dissolved. Almost on the same day the player penned a three year deal at Eintracht Frankfurt giving him the chance to take probably his last stab at being remembered as a great Bundesliga player. Saturday’s match against Wolfsburg possibly marks the midfielder’s 100th match in the league.
During his first press conference the Prince told the German media why he had returned:
“The Bundesliga is naturally one of the strongest leagues in the world. If given the chance to play in that league, one doesn’t turn down the offer.”
This might very well be Boa’s last chance at making a great impact in a Bundesliga side. Things could have turned full circle if the attacker and midfielder would have signed for Hertha, but at the end of the day there is the influence of his Berlin roots that had an impact on his decision:
“Back when Niko Kovac became a coach a couple of years ago I called him and told him that I would like to work with him. I always had the feeling that he would be an outstanding coach. Now it has happened. We know each other from Berlin. I looked up to him as a role model, because he comes from the city and the same street(as I).”
Eintracht Frankfurt are tipped by most experts to be between mid-table or maybe as far down as the battle against relegation. However, Prince Boateng doesn’t agree with that point of view:
“I think it’s our goal to play good football as constantly as possible. If we manage to do just that, one never knows what might happen. It might be enough to get to Europe or to the cup final, but that is not given.”
If he manages to lead Eintracht to the higher regions of the Bundesliga table KPB might definitely be in with the chance of being remembered as the man who came back to conquer the Bundesliga. Even a good season or two might give him the chance to leave the Bundesliga on a high note, rather than being remembered as the player who was tossed out at Schalke due to his lousy attitude and the guy who had put in that horrible tackle on Michael Ballack.
He might combine flair with physique, but behind the image of madness combined with a flashy presence on and off the pitch, there’s actually a genuinely good footballer. Back during his first stint at AC Milan Prince Boateng told 11 Freunde:
“I always wanted to be a footballer. I wanted to be recognised as a personality and I wanted to be respected.”
This stay at Eintracht Frankfurt might very well be KPB’s last chance of changing the perception of him. It’s now or never if he wants to conquer the Bundesliga. Anybody who has seen his talent on the ball and who has followed the midfielder’s career will undoubtedly agree that he has the potential to do just that.