Kevin-Prince Boateng ended his active football career at the age of 36. He announces that it’s over where he started – on the almost famous Cage Square in Berlin-Wedding. His career is not only special on the pitch.
The last circle also closes. Kevin-Prince Boateng is back on this famous soccer field, this special place in Berlin-Wedding. It’s a declaration of love. To his teammates, to himself, but above all to football. “I love you. But that’s it for me. Thank you, football!”, The 36-year-old writes under the Instagram video, which announces the end of his career.
For a long time, Boateng himself didn’t really know how to proceed. He has to see what is best for him, what his body can still give. “I will make a statement on this in two weeks,” he said in early July. Fourteen days then became six weeks. “When you stop playing, it hits you the hardest,” he says in the video. Maybe that’s why it took so long to finally get clarity.
Anything but the end of his career would have been a surprise. The actual circle had already closed two years ago. Then he came back to Berlin, it was to be his last station. In his city. To his Hertha. But his return came at what was probably the most turbulent time in Berlin’s Westend. And so it was not a lap of honor, but a tough relegation battle.
No second heroic story
Once Boateng was able to save his Hertha from falling. Last summer he coached the team in the second relegation game against HSV to a 2-0 win. It was the story when coach Felix Magath let him line up. Boateng then decided which 11 professionals should prevent relegation after the 1-0 defeat in the first leg.
But the second time, there was no heroic story. This time, the Berliners didn’t save themselves in the relegation at the last second. Although Hertha could still hope for a short time on the penultimate day, a late 1-1 draw against Bochum sealed the early relegation in the last home game. After the final whistle, Boateng fought back tears in the interviews in the Olympic Stadium at home. “I can’t realize it yet,” he said. “It’s just sad, but I still love the club.” When he came here, he knew that not everything was rosy. For Hertha, the fresh start began in the last first division game for the time being, Boateng missed the game in Wolfsburg injured.
In his career, Kevin-Prince Boateng has experienced everything a professional footballer can experience. He played with Hertha internationally and against relegation, with AC Milan in the Champions League, with Barça alongside world footballer Lionel Messi. Even the Spanish media called the move to FC Barcelona “surreal” at the time. Boateng is one of only 24 professionals who have appeared for both district giants, Dortmund and Schalke. At Eintracht Frankfurt, he became one of the pillars with which the club won the DFB Cup and thus laid the foundation for today’s success.
Hertha BSC, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund, FC Portsmouth, Genoa CFC, AC Milan, Schalke 04, again AC Milan, Las Palmas, Eintracht Frankfurt, US Sassuolo, FC Barcelona, AC Florence, Besiktas, again AC Florence, AC Monza, Hertha BSC.
Boateng gets around on his journey through the football world. One thing is clear at every station: his ability was always unquestionable – even at his last station, when he only had a little playing time at Hertha. The long, grueling career left its mark on his body. The legs form an almost visible O. The laces of his shoes were mostly untied recently, the ankles are bandaged too much. And nevertheless. When Boateng came on, everyone in the stadium felt it. He was still surrounded by a special aura – even if the pace was no longer the highest. He conducted, coached and steered the game and his teammates.
Grown on concrete
There have always been such moments recently that indicated that Boateng is more than a technically competent footballer. Someone who leads. Someone who also has a lot to tell off the pitch. His past and that of his brothers has been handed down several times – in books, plays and other things. They grew up in difficult circumstances: Prince and older brother George in tough, dirty Wedding, while younger half-brother Jerome in Berlin-Wilmersdorf.
Football brought them together. Above all, the legendary soccer field on Travemünderstraße in Berlin Wedding, on the Panke. There they grew on concrete. The wedding and the cage – both shaped the brothers. An old working-class neighborhood with high crime rates. Rau and especially Berlin. “Either you become a criminal or a footballer,” says Boateng in his farewell video, “I chose football.” Their faces are still immortalized on a house wall near the Pankstraße underground station.
In the cage they learned a different kind of football. There is no room for error there. No time to think. The game is fast, every movement has to be right. This requires excellent ball control. The positional play was still missing, said Jürgen Klopp at the beginning of Boateng’s career. But the BVB professional at the time could accept a ball in a hundred different ways.
UN speech in Geneva
This talent brought the young Boateng to Hertha BSC back then. He made his first experiences of racism in youth football. “I know how it feels to play for the Hertha juniors as a nine-year-old and to be told: ‘You get a banana for every goal,'” he recently wrote for the “Spiegel”. He also heard the N-word several times.
It wasn’t the last time. During his time at AC Milan, he abandoned a game because of racist abuse. In 2013, in a test match against the fourth division club Pro Patria (“For the Fatherland”), he left the field in the 26th minute after there had been repeated monkey noises from the stands. He is always loud against racism, spoke at the UN in Geneva, he was offered the role of ambassador to the United Nations.
But Boateng’s story is also that of a German-Ghanaian who never gets the recognition he really deserves in this country. The dazzling character polarizes: fat cars, tattoos and the big mouth. Boateng says himself: “I was my biggest rival.” In 2009 he was accused of wandering the streets with ex-teammate Patrick Ebert and demolishing cars. Hertha fans at least dedicated their own song to Ebert. For a long time, Boateng overshadowed the calm and later sportingly more successful Jérôme Boateng. However, after Jérôme was convicted of domestic violence in court last year, Kevin-Prince publicly broke with him.
German enemy of the state for months
His relationship with Germany was difficult throughout his career. Boateng was fatal on May 15, 2010. In the FA Cup final, he rushed towards national team captain Michael Ballack and open-soled his right ankle. The DFB captain’s syndesmosis ligament tore, the inner ligament completely through. Ballack missed the World Cup in South Africa. The foul marked the beginning of the end of his national team career.
It was a turning point for Boateng himself. “I know what it’s like to be considered an enemy of the state for months because of a foul on a national player in Germany. I was also born and raised in Germany, for me Germany is home like for 83 million others,” he wrote in “Spiegel “. From his homeland he learns wild insults and death threats.
The relationship has since improved, also due to his return to Hertha. At that time he had the Hertha flag tattooed on his chest – such actions are still part of Boateng. His comeback gave the club back the identification figure that the Berliners had longed for and are now looking for again. Maybe it would have been more successful in sporting terms if he had returned earlier.
At the end of his active career, Boateng allegedly waved the Saudi money again. But he probably refused. During the Qatar World Cup, he sharply criticized the behavior in the desert. “Anyone who has played for Africa, that great, proud continent that has suffered (and still suffers) from colonialism and exploitation for centuries like no other, cannot simply celebrate when the World Cup takes place in a country that people systematically exploited to organize a bombastic party for four weeks,” he wrote in “Spiegel”.
And now he’s not in the desert, but back on the football field. At the age of 36, where it all began, he announced the end of his career. “I always gave my all for my team-mates. I was the leader, I was the tough kid, but I was also the clown – I was funny,” he says. “In the dressing room I showed the strong Prince, laughing and encouraging everyone.” But then he gets serious: “Every day I fought my demons. I went home, cried, felt sad and had depression.” Towards the end of the farewell video, he speaks to the people behind the camera. “Think about it. I’m from here,” Boateng points to the ground, “to San Siro and Camp Nou.” He leaves the cage. “I’m out of here,” he points to the distance again, “White Hart Lane. Tottenham. Wembley.” The whole football world.