Soccer News of Friday, 16 April 2010
Source: By Maik Grossekathöfer
Half-brothers Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng grew up in Berlin as the sons of an African immigrant. They could end up playing on opposite sides at the World Cup in a few weeks, with one playing for Germany and the other for Ghana.
Jerome Boateng has four tattoos. One of them, on his right forearm, consists of the word "Agyenim" and runs all the way from just above his wrist to his elbow. It is his middle name and means "the Great One" in Ashanti-Twi, the language of his father, who comes from Ghana. The 21-year old, whose mother is from Berlin, is a defender for the German national soccer team.
Jerome has never been to Ghana, and yet he somehow feels connected to the African country, though he can't quite explain why. He likes to listen to music from Ghana, because it sounds cheerful, and he has a few Ghanaian friends. "But it was clear to me early on that I only wanted to play for Germany."
Kevin-Prince Boateng has 13 tattoos. One of them, on his right upper arm, depicts a skull and four aces, with the words "The World Is Yours" in English.
Kevin-Prince is Jerome's half-brother. They have the same father. He too is a professional football player, but he prefers music by German rapper Bushido, whose songs are about whores and anal sex. His mother's name is Christine, and through her he is related to legendary football player Helmut Rahn. Known as "The Boss," Kevin-Prince's great-uncle scored the winning goal for Germany in the final of the 1954 World Cup.
'Proud to Be African'
Like Jerome, Kevin-Prince was born in Berlin. Most of what he knows about Ghana, his father's country, comes from stories he has heard. Nevertheless, he says: "I'm proud to be an African."
The 23-year-old is hoping to play for the Black Stars, Ghana's national team. He has applied for a Ghanaian passport, which is only a formality at this point. The Ghana Football Association is depending on him to be a member of its team when it heads to South Africa for the World Cup in June.
As youngsters the half-brothers played for the same club, Hertha BSC, both as amateurs and then professionals. They left the club three years ago. Jerome now plays for Hamburg SV, though he looks set to move to an English club next season, while Kevin-Prince plays for Portsmouth, in England's Premier League.
Their paths could cross again as soon as June 23, when Germany is set to play Ghana at the World Cup, in Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium. It is the last match in Group D, and it is highly likely that it will end up being a family duel, with one brother, Kevin-Prince, playing as an attacking midfielder for Ghana and the other, Jerome, as a defender for Germany.
Like many children of immigrants, Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng have a diffuse relationship to their nationality and roots, with two hearts beating in their chests. When it comes to playing for the national team, however, they can only opt for one country.
Kevin-Prince walks through the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Southampton, wearing baggy jeans and clunky sneakers. He has the broad shoulders of a professional footballer.
Most Promising New Player
Many observers had predicted that he would end up on the German team eventually. Kevin-Prince Boateng had played 41 times for the German Football Association's junior teams. In July 2005, he scored the "goal of the month" when he hammered the ball into the net from the half-way line during a game for the U19 national team. In 2006, a jury selected him as the most promising new player of the year. But then, last summer, he announced that he would only play for Ghana from then on. It was a surprising decision, but he had made up his mind.
Kevin-Prince looks around the lobby, searching for his manager. A short man from Cologne, with shoulder-length hair and carrying a briefcase, the manager is standing in the corner near a television set. He backpacked through India in his younger days. "I lived on the streets for a year," he says. "That's where you learn humility."
The two men sit down in armchairs. Kevin-Prince pulls his mobile phone from his jacket pocket and stares absent-mindedly at the screen. His manager says: "If Ghana wins the World Cup, the whole continent will be on fire. And Kevin will be a star." That's the plan.
Jerome Boateng is sitting at a table next to the window at Salentino's, an Italian restaurant in Hamburg's Winterhude neighborhood. It's getting dark outside as rain pelts against the windowpane. He smells of cologne, but not overpoweringly, and he has a diamond stud in each ear. He orders an arugula salad and a bottle of mineral water. For a national player, Jerome Boateng is thinner than one would expect. He speaks quietly and seems almost shy. "I never thought of playing for Ghana," he says.
"Because it doesn't make any sense. Germany is my home. I like the people here, and the mentality," he says. "The fact that Kevin made a different choice is his business. But he's my half-brother, and I'm happy for him."
'Why Should You Make It?'
Jerome grew up in Berlin's Wilmersdorf neighborhood, in a three-room apartment not far from the Kurfürstendamm, West Berlin's main shopping boulevard. His father moved out when Jerome was five. His mother, Martina, was a flight attendant for British Airways, and she now works for Lufthansa.
Martina Boateng comes to the restaurant straight from the dentist, where she has just had a molar pulled. Her upper jaw is still numb. She orders a cup of coffee, although she is not supposed to drink anything. Jerome's mother says that she never wanted her son to become a football player. She wanted him to learn something worthwhile, something with a future. "I used to annoy him by asking: Why should you, of all people, make it as a professional?"
She was also opposed to his attending Hertha BSC's youth academy, because she has a low opinion of comprehensive schools. Nevertheless, Jerome attended the Poelchau secondary school, an "elite sports school," until the 10th grade. He didn't do well in biology, physics and mathematics, but good grades were important to his mother.
Martina Boateng carefully sips her coffee. The anesthetic hasn't worn off yet. "At the time, I didn't recognize how determined Jerome was. Today I have to say: Kudos!"
Kevin-Prince, his half-brother, visited often when they were growing up. Jerome went to the movies with him, and they played table tennis or basketball together. But most of the time they played football. "Kevin was Jerome's idol," says Martina Boateng. She rolls her eyes, as if it were something she doesn't like to think about. "I really like Kevin. He's funny, a clown. He loves to make people laugh. But he can't accept a subordinate role, he has a big mouth and he doesn't obey the rules. That always comes through." When the boys were younger, she feared that Kevin would be a bad influence on her son.
For a time, Jerome adopted a sort of affected immigrant dialect, speaking in rudimentary sentences without articles. But that was the extent of his rebelliousness. Today Jerome is the epitome of the modern professional athlete. He doesn't drink and he doesn't smoke. He likes to spend time on his Playstation. His mother says: "Jerome figured out on his own that all the way Kevin acts isn't necessarily all that great."
The half-brothers' different personalities are reflected in their playing styles. Jerome is a disciplined defender, keeping track of things and remaining calm when on the ball. Kevin-Prince can control and finish, but his actions are more physical, almost angry. Last year he kicked a player on the opposing team in the temple. The wound had to be sewed up with seven stitches.
Martina Boateng puts on her coat. On the way out, she says that she had expected that Jerome would play for Germany. She prefers not to comment on Kevin-Prince's decision to play for Ghana. All she says is: "Kevin comes from Wedding. I admire him for having fought his way out of there."
Wedding is a poor Berlin neighborhood where foreigners make up a third of the residents. The unemployment rate is above 15 percent, 15,000 crimes are recorded every year, and the number of welfare recipients is high.
Kevin-Prince was one-and-a-half when his father left the family home. His mother played football with the second-tier team Meteor 06 and worked long hours in a cookie factory. She eventually stopped working and went on welfare to take care of her children, two boys and three girls. Today she works as a geriatric nurse.
'I Was a Bad Role Model'
A man walks through the drizzle wearing a parka, the hood pulled down, half-covering his face. "Let's walk a little," he says. George Boateng is Kevin-Prince's older brother and Jerome's other half-brother. He takes us to the back room of a café. The 27-year-old is married to a Turkish Kurd and they have two children. He was a gifted football player when he was younger, but he destroyed his own career.
He was the terror of the streets as a teenager. "I got into a lot of trouble. Fights, probation. I had a short fuse, and I was a bad role model for Kevin. He can thank me for his reputation." He says that he calmed down after meeting his wife. "I haven't even parked illegally in 10 years."
Three years ago, however, he and his brother did try to attack then Hertha coach Falko Götz. The coach had told a journalist that he had once been to Kevin-Prince's house. "He has a lot of siblings, all from different fathers," Götz said. George Boateng leans forward. Götz isn't exactly a hero himself, he says. Slot machines flash behind him and the air smells of stale cigarette smoke.
When asked about his brother's affairs, he sits up straight again. "I'm the last one to claim that Kevin is an angel. But he's a good person. I'm not. I'm aggressive. I told him not to become like me." He doesn't want to talk about it anymore, he says.
He prefers to talk about Jerome, his half-brother. "Jerome is my haven. Everyone calms down when he walks into the room. Kevin is ambitious. Jerome is a perfectionist. He lives for success."
George is Jerome's harshest critic and his biggest fan. They speak on the telephone every day, discussing the last training session and analyzing moves. "Jerome is like a sponge. He absorbs everything." The two most important things in their lives are football and family -- in that order. Occasionally they talk about their father.
Prince Boateng is waiting in a pub on the Adenauerplatz square in western Berlin. He sits at the bar, wearing an elegant jacket, two bracelets and three rings. A scar on his cheek identifies him as a member of the Aduana tribe.
Football Pitches Like Cages
In 1981, he left Sunyani, a city in western Ghana, and went to Germany by way of Hungary. He wanted to study business administration, but nothing came of it. There was too much paperwork involved. Instead, he scraped by as a waiter and disc jockey, later selling Italian fashion and occasionally working as a model.
He told his sons a lot about life in Africa. His parents were cacao and coffee farmers. His youngest brother played for the Ghanaian national football team. Boateng himself made it only as far as a local club in Berlin, the Reinickendorfer Füchse.
Prince Boateng travels to Ghana twice a year. He is currently having a house built in the capital Accra, and it is almost finished. The house is for his children, so that they can stay there if they choose to accompany him. The African side of Jerome and Kevin-Prince, he says, is their suppleness, their looseness. "Both of them are great dancers."
And what's German about them?
He thinks for a moment. "Jerome is punctual and reliable, which is something you can't really say about Kevin."
It was always important to him that his children spent as much time together as possible. He coached both of them when they were still little boys. Sometimes they were allowed to play the ball with their left feet only, and sometimes only with their right feet. Sometimes they practiced free kicks and sometimes headers. His sons learned how to run, dribble and score goals on football pitches that looked like cages, surrounded by tall metal fences. Kevin would flick the ball with his heel over his head, dropping it to his foot -- wearing rubber boots.
Jerome joined Tennis Borussia Berlin, where he scored five goals in his first game. In 2002, he switched to Hertha, where Kevin-Prince was already playing. Some of their coaches felt that they were the most talented players to have ever played for the club.
Jerome debuted with the German national team last October, when he was part of the first 11 in a deciding World Cup qualifying match in Russia. His father watched the match on television in Jerome's apartment, "with tears in my eyes," as he says. Shortly before the break, Jerome was shown a yellow card because of a foul on the edge of the penalty box. "The ref didn't have to do that," says the father. In the 69th minute, Jerome brought down a Russian player and was shown a yellow and then a red card.
"He sacrificed himself for Germany," says Prince Boateng. It isn't meant to sound vain, but apologetic. "He started running a little too late, and his only option was to commit a foul, or else the Russian would have run toward the goal alone. It broke my heart to see him sent off."
He says he lost contact with Kevin-Prince when his son went to England three years ago. Kevin-Prince spent a lot of time in nightclubs and going to parties. He bought three cars on a single day, a Lamborghini, a Hummer and a Cadillac Oldtimer. He also bought a new wardrobe: 160 pairs of shoes, 200 hats and 20 leather jackets.
Part 3: A Score to Settle with Germany?
"The boy needed help, but he didn't let anyone near him," says the father. He tried to reach his son by calling him and sending him text messages, but "Kevin never answered." He seems distracted for a moment, as if he were re-examining everything in his mind.
He only learned Kevin-Prince would be playing for Ghana when he read it in the paper that. He says that he would have been pleased if his son had told him himself. They have been back in touch since December, thanks to the efforts of his daughter-in-law. The father and son had a long talk that lasted from 9 p.m. until 4 a.m. Prince Boateng says when Germany plays Ghana at the World Cup, "I won't root for either side. The better team should win."
How does he feel about the fact that Kevin-Prince plans to play for his native country? "I accept it. I support him completely. The German Football Association made him feel that he was no longer needed."
He talks about the events of last May. Before the U21 European championship in Sweden, the team went to a training camp on Tegernsee, a lake near Munich. One player still had to be eliminated. The decision was up to the team council. One of the players who was there, but doesn't want to be identified, says: "Kevin was picked because he had been late for meetings several times. The idea was: Someone who's that unreliable jeopardizes the entire project. If you want to win the title, you can't have anyone stepping out of line. Besides, he was injured."
'A Lack of Discipline and Egotism'
When Kevin-Prince found out, he burst into tears. His half-brother tried to console him. Germany won the championship, and Jerome excelled.
Matthias Sammer, the sports director of the German Football Association, puts it this way: "A lack of discipline and egotism can be discerned in Kevin-Prince. When it comes to his athletic and mental constitution, Jerome is the stronger player." In other words one brother is a good fit for Germany, while the other is not.
Kevin-Prince's manager is sitting in the hotel lobby in Southampton, with his briefcase next to his chair. He says that Kevin-Prince will succeed, one way or the other. "Kevin is also a good singer. Maybe he'll record a record soon."
We'd like to ask Kevin-Prince why he wants to play for Ghana, and we'd like to talk to him about identity. But nothing is free. "What can you offer Mr. Boateng?" the manager asks.
Not money, at any rate.
The manager thinks for a moment. Then he says that we'd have to sign an agreement stating that he would have to read and approve the entire text before it could be published. "I have to protect Mr. Boateng."
There is no interview.
It seems that one of the reasons Kevin-Prince Boateng decided to play for Ghana's national team was because he still has a score to settle with Germany, even if he denies it. Jerome Boateng is playing for Germany, because it seems logical to him. In his case, reason is the motivating factor.
At the Italian restaurant in Hamburg, Jerome looks out the window at the rain. What would he do on June 23 if his brother were running toward the goal with the ball at his feet, and he were the last man who could prevent him from getting there?
Jerome reflects for a moment. A smile darts across his face. "First I would try to take the ball away from him. Totally fair." But if it came to it, then he'd bring him down.