Germany v Ghana: Kevin-Prince Boateng out to settle a score – again
Kevin-Prince Boateng might have played the diplomat. He could have displayed the maturity that has marked his rise as a leading player for Milan, Schalke and in the fight against racism in football.
But there is something about confronting Germany at a World Cup that encourages the provocateur in “Prince”. For the second time in four years, the Ghana midfielder faces Joachim Löw’s team as a pantomime villain out to settle a score against the land of his birth. Once again, he has been instrumental in the casting.
In 2010 it was a foul on Chelsea’s Michael Ballack in the FA Cup finalthat made Boateng, then playing for Portsmouth, public enemy No1 in Germany. The national captain was consequently ruled out of South Africa 2010 with ankle-ligament damage and never played for Germany again. In 2014 it is not Boateng’s actions but his words that have spread irritation through German football.
Ghana may not thank their attacking midfielder for adding an edge to the game should it end their competitive interest in Brazil.
Earlier this year, with Ghana drawn against Löw’s men in the group stage for a second successive World Cup, he said: “Germany has world-class players in every position and that is their main problem.
They have so many good players and need to win the World Cup or at least make it to the final. You need characters when you go into a tournament with so much pressure. I don’t see anyone who could handle this and might be able to carry the team along.”
Boateng may have a point but that is beside the point. That “leaderless” squad includes former team-mates from his days as a Germany youth international, people he played alongside from under-15 to under-21 level, and his brother Jérôme.
The 27-year-old also singled out Bastian Schweinsteiger in his critique of a Germany team that made a commanding start to its quest for a first title since 1996 against Portugal.
“It is said that he is a leader, but I don’t know if he has taken on this role,” Boateng added. “I believe Schweini would just like to play his football. He was that strong because he had his peace and was able to play his game. I see an outstanding team but whenever something is at stake they do not make the final step. They just lack this one guy.”
The ripostes arrived from all directions. Mario Götze insisted Schweinsteiger could not have achieved so much success at Bayern Munich without “special qualities”. The two-time World Cup finalist Paul Breitner bristled: “What does Mr Boateng want? He should mind his own business and rather concern himself with his own team and look for leaders over there.” Löw tried not to get involved yet still delivered a chilling: “We will respond adequately to that at the World Cup.” Card marked.
Unlike 2010, however, Jérôme Boateng did not join the condemnation of his older brother, and Germany have not had the opportunity to spice their World Cup preparations with a tale of siblings at war.
Jérôme and Kevin-Prince Boateng cease daily contact before opposing each other on a football pitch and their pact has remained intact for this Group G meeting in Fortaleza. “We’ve had no contact recently, each of us is just concentrating on himself,” said the Bayern Munich defender.
Before South Africa, where Germany beat Ghana 1-0 to revive their World Cup campaign, communication lines were down completely after Jérôme voiced disapproval of the tackle that ended Ballack’s international career. “After the things he said about my foul on Michael Ballack, we fell out,” said Kevin-Prince. “We see the event differently. I said to him that we should go our separate ways.”
Jérôme responded: “I don’t want any more contact with him. Kevin thought I should have defended him and criticised Ballack. Now I don’t care what he does. It really doesn’t interest me any more.” There was more behind the Ballack controversy than one bad foul.
Only months before the FA Cup final between Portsmouth and Chelsea, Kevin-Prince Boateng had switched international allegiances to Ghana. Shortly after Wembley, the players’ father, Ghanian-born Prince, told the Hamburg Morning Post: “You have to look at the whole story. Kevin had just scored his first goal for Hertha [Berlin, in 2006]. Then they played against Bayern Munich. He had an argument with Ballack. Ballack said to him: ‘You’ve scored one goal and you think you are the best.’ Kevin has never forgotten that. Unfortunately, Kevin isn’t very diplomatic. But I am sure, even if he did foul Ballack, he didn’t mean to injure him.” That was enough for the German media to label Boateng’s challenge a premeditated assault. He viewed Jérôme’s lack of support as betrayal.
Four years on Kevin-Prince Boateng is recognised as the gifted, consistent talent he vowed to be when starting out as a precocious youngster who scored goals for fun in his favourite footwear, a pair of Wellington boots.
He won the Serie A title with Milan in 2011, earned a £10.1m move back to the Bundesliga with Schalke last summer and, notably, his reputation has transformed from the brash star who thought nothing of buying three cars in one day to a man prepared to take a stand against racism on the terraces.
Boateng’s decision to walk off the pitch after being racially abused during a supposed friendly for Milan against Pro Patria in January 2013 reverberated worldwide. He is now part of Fifa’s anti-racism taskforce and has only the unquestioned admiration of his younger brother. “For me, he has been the first footballer who put up some resistance,” said Jérôme, who has since described the fallout from the Ballack tackle as “unfair” on his brother.
“A lot of players should have done that much earlier. It takes a lot of courage to do so. He showed everyone that enough is enough. I don’t know if he is a hero but I am delighted, especially for him. He did not have the best image with the German public.”
All of which invites the question why Kevin-Prince should damage it once more and annoy former colleagues turned World Cup opponents in the process?
Perhaps the answer lies in why the midfielder turned his back on Germany to play for Ghana at the 2010 World Cup.
Both Boateng brothers were born in Berlin, to different mothers, but while Jérôme showed no inclination to represent his father’s birthplace at international level, and now keeps Cristiano Ronaldo quiet on the World Cup stage, Kevin-Prince chose a different route.
Greater competition for a place in Germany’s team is one logical explanation. Another is that he remains resentful of Germany’s decision to drop him from their Under-21 squad shortly before the 2009 European Championships in Sweden, allegedly after Boateng reported late for several team meetings. It was a blow that left the midfielder in tears and his application for a Ghana passport came later that year.
“I was always a supporter of Kevin,” said the Germany midfielder Sami Khedira this week. “I have known him since we were 15, but sometimes there are rules to be followed. You can cross the line once or twice but at some point it has to be enough as well. The coach at that time decided what was right in my mind. Kevin had only himself to blame – but he knows it, I’m sure.”
Boateng could not make Germany pay in Johannesburg four years ago and is currently upset at the Ghana manager Kwesi Appiah for omitting him from the starting line-up against USA on Monday. But, as with his career and his reputation, “Prince” has a second chance.