He once stood-up in front of the UN and delivered a speech on racism; if FIFA ever want someone to go into clubs and talk about the pitfalls of paying youngsters fortunes with no thought for how they might handle it, Kevin-Prince Boateng would do a pretty good job of that too.
‘It’s true,’ he says when asked to verify the tale of him buying three cars in a day while a young player at Tottenham.
‘I still have a picture at home of me standing in-front of three cars and a big house and I’m standing there like I’m 50 Cent. I look at it sometimes and I say: “look how stupid you were”.
He makes a good case for young professionals needing more help: ‘If you’re 18, you don’t know anything. And today if you are 18 you get five million net a year. You buy the world! That is exactly what you think: I can buy the world. I buy friends, I buy girls, I buy cars, I buy everything.’
Boateng’s move to Spurs was 10 years ago this summer. It ended after two seasons and barely 24 appearances. But it didn’t finish him.
He was inspired by a young Jurgen Klopp while on loan at Dortmund and he ended up winning Serie A alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’ll be 30 next month and he’s the only player still playing who has scored in all four top European leagues.
Back in 2007 Boateng was the Memphis Depay of his day. Spurs director of football Damien Comolli signed him from Hertha Berlín, but later admitted: ‘We just looked at the talent. We forgot to look at the individual off the pitch.’
He had grown up with his mother and older brother George in a run-down part of Berlin. ‘Named in the top ten… but in a negative way,’ he says, adding that the adjacent Koloniestraße was a no-go zone for the police accept when they were investigating a shooting.
Now he found himself living alone in Loughton, near Spurs’ training ground. And training was soon all he was doing, after Martin Jol froze him out.
‘Jol told me after a month that he didn’t want me. So it felt like me against the world; you know that feeling when you shut-off?’ he says.
‘I had a lot of money for a 20-year-old. I thought: Okay so you don’t want me, I will enjoy my life. I went out night-clubbing. And then of course you can’t perform.
‘You end up trying to buy happiness. I bought a Lamborghini. Wow! I was happy for a week. After that I didn’t even use the car. Who drives around Loughton in a Lamborghini?’
Football clubs are a little wiser now, but still they leave players to the mercy of their own network of friends – not always a good idea.
‘I got friends to come visit me but they weren’t real friends,’ says Boateng. ‘They weren’t the type of friends who will tell you: “What the f*** are you doing? Go and train and play football.” They were friends who would say: “Let’s go out”.
‘At first you don’t think that anything is going wrong. You’re dropped to the second team but you see your money coming in and you say: “okay, I get my fun somewhere else”. Girls, nightclubs, friends, fake friends.
‘But in the end I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror and thought: no that’s not what I want to be. I looked old because every night
I was out until six in the morning. I was 95 kilos. I was swollen because of the drinking and the bad food. I said to myself: “I don’t want to be this guy”.’
Not all of Boateng’s friends were happy to watch him waste away his career and with some help he cleaned his fridge out, started cooking healthy food for himself and stopped drinking.
‘Two really good friends in London who I still talk to came over and we cleaned my whole house together. They said: “If you want to go out, we will go out, but we will be behind you if you want to play football”.’
The chance to play came when he went on-loan to Dortmund managed by a still relatively unknown Klopp.
He is the best coach in the world,’ Boateng says. ‘There were players at Dortmund that played five minutes in that whole six months but they were happy to work hard because he gave you that feeling that you were important. Not necessarily as a player – maybe he didn’t need you as a player – but as a person.’
Klopp wanted Dortmund to keep Boateng but a price couldn’t be agreed and so he went to Portsmouth instead.
‘I’m happy to have met Klopp,’ he says. ‘I could see that Dortmund was going to be something special. I could see the team had a togetherness that every club dreams of. Liverpool is the perfect place for him now.’
Portsmouth were already hurtling towards financial meltdown when he joined but Boateng says he just wanted to play.
‘They said: “the stadium is small”. I said: “I don’t care”. They said: “The pitch is bad”. I said: “I don’t care”. They said: “They have no money”.
I said: “I don’t care”. It was small, but it was noisy. They were real fans. It was crazy, it was beautiful.’
And never more so when he scored in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley to beat Tottenham. ‘It was a little pay-back to show them that while I had made mistakes, they had made a mistake too,’ he says.
In keeping with the dubious financial goings-on at Portsmouth, when Boateng left the club he joined two teams in one day – signing for Genoa, and immediately joining Milan on loan.
‘Two weeks after my agent told me I was joining Genoa he called and said: “What do you think about Milan?” And I said to him: “Yeah it’s a great club. Why?” He said: “Would you like to play for Milan?” I went to Milan. Genoa were still in the deal but I knew I was never going to play for them.’
It was in Italy, fresh from playing his part in Ghana reaching the World Cup quarter-finals and meeting Nelson Mandela, that he played his best football, and in very special company too.
‘I remember my first day in the dressing room I just saw the names and I said: this is a dream. I called my older brother and said: You know
I’m sitting next to [Andrea] Pirlo. He said: “Take a picture! Take a picture!” And I had Beckham’ s locker because he had just left.
Of all the stars in the Milan galaxy, Ronaldinho included, Ibrahimovic was the one who made the biggest impact. ‘You think he’s going to be this arrogant big f***** and not a nice guy at all, but he’s the absolute opposite. On the pitch, he’s very serious, very professional. But off it he’s just the funniest guy.’
The team won Serie A. ‘How could they not with those players?’ Boateng says, adding: ‘They had a superstar in every position and the crazy thing was that I was playing! I knew that everybody there had talent and technique – maybe the only one with less technique was [Gennaro] Gattuso. But he had another talent: he ran 120 minutes like a psycho – so I had to bring something different. I brought a fighting spirit. I was running, I was getting fouls, I was kicking people, to the point where they started saying: “He’s the new Gattuso”.’
Boateng famously stole the show at the title-celebration, moonwalking dressed as Michael Jackson. It was homage to one of his biggest heroes, just 12 months after he had met another – Nelson Mandela.
‘He was shining,’ he says beaming at the memory of the encounter. ‘He was like an angel sat there. And luckily he broke the ice.
It was the South Africa World Cup and “David Black-ham” was what they were calling me.
‘Everybody was going crazy for me so we go into the room and everyone says: “Hello, hello, hello” and he shook my hand and he pulled me towards him and he said: “My daughter wants to marry you.” I said: “Sorry I already have a girlfriend,” and he said “no, no but I have others!”
‘When you meet one of these people it’s hard to describe the joy. Mandela was in prison for 27 years just because he was standing up for his rights and he sits there and he has no anger inside of him. It was an incredible moment for me.’
Boateng would go on to do his bit to fight prejudice in January 2013 when he walked off the pitch in a friendly against Italian fourth division side Pro Patria after he had been racially abused by a section of the crowd.
His team-mates walked with him and Rio Ferdinand was among those who applauded the move.
That’s how Boateng ended up delivering a speech to the UN and heading up the first ever FIFA anti-racism taskforce. It’s one they abandoned last September, laughably declaring: ‘job done’.
‘It is not something that you can fix in a couple of years and yes it goes beyond football, but we have the chance to do more, in what is the biggest sport in the world,’ he says. ‘Just having people saying no to racism on a commercial changes nothing.’
He read about the break-up of the taskforce in the papers: ‘I was not even informed. And we have seen what happened to [Mario] Balotelli playing in Bastia since. He is a close friend of mine and we spoke about it. He said to me: “What can I do? I can put something on Instagram,
I can put something on Twitter.” But there is nothing else he can do. He can’t fight racism alone. And I know that walking off every time is not the answer.’
He describes the speech to the UN and the ovation he received as ‘the craziest moment’ of his life. ‘I was so nervous. I was sweating and my legs were trembling and then the woman – I forget her name – tapped me under the table and said: “Okay don’t worry, you’ll be fine”. I was thinking: No, I won’t. All I could see were the sixty cameras all with their red recording lights on.’
When asked what he will do when he stops playing he doesn’t see a future in the politics of sport. But helping young players keep their heads while all those around them want to spend their money will be a crusade in itself.
Recalling those Tottenham days again he says: ‘There are always two sides to the story when something goes wrong. I know I did bad stuff. I went out. I went clubbing. But I was 20! I left my home, my family, all my friends. I was alone there.
No one cares. No one came to ask me “How are you?”. If you don’t perform on the pitch they will judge you. I understand because I was a fan at Hertha Berlin and I judged the players there. You are a number in the system. You cost money, so if you don’t work… they change the number.’
He plans to eventually work as an agent or advisor, ‘help these young guys to be the best they can be,’ he says.
Boateng was the best he could be… eventually. And it’s not over yet. Las Palmas are ambitious and beat Middlesbrough to the signing of Jese Rodriguez from Paris Saint Germain; they want to qualify for the Europa League. Can the Prince get back into Europe? Why not?’ he says.
It would be some story – another for the collection.
Source: Mail Online