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Sports Features of Thursday, 24 January 2019


KP Boateng: Good enough for Barca, not for Ghana

KP Boateng made his Barcelona debut yesterday KP Boateng made his Barcelona debut yesterday

Of football’s two transfer windows, that which comes in winter — at the beginning of the year, specifically — is far less captivating.

Popping up in the middle of the season when clubs are busy fighting for titles, European tickets or mere survival, this session is almost a distraction many — unless injury or some other plight has left them short on personnel — would rather do without. Fans don’t enjoy it much either. The rumor mill runs slower and churns out little in the way of sweet tittle-tattle, while juicier deals — those that would have to drag for weeks before reaching conclusion — are usually reserved for the lengthier summer shopping period.

Not rarely, though, the January market throws up a surprise deal that gets the world talking, and we already have a winner this year: Kevin-Prince Boateng loaned out to FC Barcelona till the season’s end, with the option of an outright £7.1 million purchase from Serie A’s Sassuolo.

Few deals have been wrapped up faster — over a single weekend, reportedly — and even fewer heralded by less publicity than that which has landed Boateng at the world’s most decorated club for the next few months — maybe longer.

Boateng ticks boxes that make him a perfect fit for the role Barcelona — clearly bent on mastering the art of negotiating relatively cheap, freak transfers, following the recent Paulinho example — have in mind: experienced (he’s already played in all but one of Europe’s top five leagues) and with significant La Liga expertise (he was an instant hit at Las Palmas, now demoted, in 2016/17). Again, Boateng isn’t new to packing his bags and heading for the exit/entrance at short notice, making him a minor risk should the initial €2m gamble fail.

For the player himself, it’s a chance — however brief — to increase his haul of medals in a life that has had few, even if it means sacrificing the guaranteed playing time he enjoyed back in Emilia-Romagna. Boateng could do with the sparkle, too, even in the twilight of a modest career, as he continues the remarkable post-Schalke 04 revival in his current incarnation as a ‘false nine’. Definitely a win-win, however you look at this stunning piece of business.

Back in his native Ghana, reaction has been varied. Some cheered Barcelona’s first Ghanaian acquisition and wished him well. Others, critical of Boateng regarding a perceived lack of patriotism (never mind that he shares a birthday with the country and has its name tattooed on his arm), can’t believe how a player widely deemed overrated and opportunistic never seems to run out of ‘luck’. Still others, more favorably biased, believe Boateng’s latest move — arguably his biggest yet — is one more reason why he deserves a recall to the Black Stars.

That latter claim, on the face of it, almost sounds justified. Boateng, since ending a depressing stay in Gelsenkirchen in 2015, has been on a roll. Spells at Las Palmas, Eintracht Frankfurt and Sassuolo have proven successful, even yielding a trophy. While all of that is very impressive, there is a popular feeling that Boateng still hasn’t atoned for his ‘sins’ as a Ghana international.
Related imageThat rap sheet includes the ‘offence’ of showing up only when there is a chance to represent Ghana at a Fifa World Cup and — marking the premature end of Boateng’s participation at the Mundial’s 2014 edition – a particularly terrible case of indiscipline. It’s why he hasn’t played again for the Stars since that forgettable summer and, as things stand, much more than a sensational twist in Boateng’s fortunes at club level would be required to end his exile.

But maybe that exile shouldn’t end at all. Maybe it’s better if country and player stay apart for good. Barcelona may have room for a guy who turns 32 in March, but Ghana doesn’t. With the senior national team gradually phasing out some of its enduring ‘dinasours’, it makes little sense to dig out the fossil of one that’s been buried for so long.
Bringing Boateng — even a sober version of the self-confessed one-time wild child – back to the fold would only send the wrong message: that, despite sincere attempts to construct a youthful future, Ghana is a team firmly stuck in the past — and there are few players more emblematic of that past, controversial and troubled, than Boateng.

For all he’s achieving now in club football, Boateng remains a persona non grata with Ghana, even if head coach Kwesi Appiah has asserted that the Berlin-born is only a genuine expression of contrition away from being reconsidered for invitation. By all means, wish Boateng well at Barça but, for the greater good, do wish him out of the Stars.