Kevin-Prince Boateng is enjoying a new resurgence in Frankfurt, and he’s being held in as high regard as he’s ever been. When Eintracht Frankfurt travel to his home town of Berlin to face Bayern Munich on Saturday, he’ll be looking to give an already strong season a golden finish.
Kevin-Prince Boateng’s biggest dream was crushed in Bayern’s semi-final clash with Real Madrid in their Champions League semi-final second leg, and there was nothing he could do about it. The potential for a battle between brothers was ended when Kevin-Prince’s brother Jerome picked up a groin injury against Real, therefore keeping him out of the cup final. “It would have been a high point. I have never played my brother in a final, so we would have made history,” he said shortly after Frankfurt triumphed over Schalke in the semi-final 1-0.
And it would have been quite some story. Kevin-Prince against Jerome in the town where they both grew up. The loud Kevin against the laid back Jerome. Man against man. Never has the older Kevin-Prince beaten his younger brother, no matter what team they were both representing.
This particular cup final is unknown territory for Boateng, who has already been an Italian champion, FA Cup winner and played in World Cups for the Ghana national team throughout his illustrious career. One thing’s for sure, he wouldn’t have expected to have capped off a brilliant return to German football with a cup final appearance when he surprisingly left UD Las Palmas last summer.
Fredi Bobic explained to the media earlier this year how the Boateng transfer suddenly all came about. “I told the board the players that I wanted to sign,” said Frankfurt’s sporting director. “When I threw Kevin-Prince Boateng’s name forward I thought ‘no, it’ll never happen.’”
But then it did. Kevin-Prince Boateng, the supposed bad boy, committed himself to the Bundesliga side. Without him, many believe that Eintracht Frankfurt wouldn’t have had half the amount of success they have - and definitely not progressed to the DFB-Pokal final.
It wasn’t just the footballing expertise that Boateng brought when he arrived from the holiday island last summer. The thing that makes him so valuable is his presence on the pitch, his charisma and the way he goes about things. He is the undisputed leader and dictates the rhythm with which they play. He epitomises what some might call “the extended arm of the coach”. Niko Kovac, who grew up in the same neighbourhood as Boateng, knows that he can trust him a bit more than the other members of the squad. “Kevin gives the team a sense of stability, both mentally and physically.” If there was anyone who could be described as a natural leader, it’s him. Kovac calls him “my warrior”.
The fact that the former AC Milan, Portsmouth and Tottenham player has world class skills at his disposal “which you don’t often see in the Bundesliga” (Kovac), is clear. He is the best footballer in a team of very hard workers, he hardly ever gives up possession and if he does, he normally wins a free-kick. Everything he does has a purpose, whether it’s a 40-yard pass into the feet of a teammate, or an audacious back-heel like the one he pulled off against Hoffenheim. He’s played as a striker, in defensive and attacking midfield - wherever he’s asked to. He’s played in almost every one of Frankfurt’s games this season, scoring eight goals.
There’s one thing that Kevin-Prince Boateng doesn’t do, however. He doesn’t big himself up. He praises his colleagues, but doesn’t brag about his own abilities. “It’s a huge amount of fun to play with this team. When you have chemistry like we do, you can achieve a lot.” You sense that Boateng feels comfortable being a part of this diverse squad, which is probably helped by the fact that he speaks Spanish and Italian and a bit of Arabic alongside fluent German and English. He knows when to work hard and when to take more of a laid back approach, and also that at this point in his career he needs to enjoy every moment. He has long been at peace with where he’s at though. “I’m older and calmer now. If you haven’t matured a bit once you get older, then you have a problem,” he says.
Things haven’t all been plain sailing for Boateng in his turbulent career, however - he wasted a few seasons when his professional personality hadn’t fully developed, mostly in London, when he bought Lamborghinis for fun and developed a deep love for fish and chips. His reputation in Germany took a hit when he forced Michael Ballack to miss the World Cup after fouling him, and he hit a low when he was at Schalke from 2013 to 2015 that almost made him give up the sport and “move to the country with five dogs.” He could have done a lot more with his talent, lots more in fact - he had it all. “Without being arrogant, I could have played at Real Madrid,” he said. “Frankfurt is the first place where I have worked really hard.” Niko Kovac has really managed to get the best out of Boateng in the twilight of his career. “He knows exactly how I tick,” praised Boateng.
On Saturday, his career will have come full circle. He left his home town to embark on his career eleven years ago now, and now he’s coming back. The last time he played in the Olympiastadion - at the beginning of December against Hertha in the Bundesliga - he scored a goal. He didn’t celebrate. Purely out of respect for the city in which he was born, where it all began.