On Monday, he was the prince again. Or maybe even the king. Kevin Prince Boateng marked his debut for Las Palmas in La Liga with an absolutely brilliant goal, helping the Canarians to a sensational 4-2 win at Valencia. In doing so, the German-Ghanaian star joined a very exclusive list of players who have found the net in the four biggest leagues in Europe.
Boateng, who scored in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin and Schalke, in the Premier League for Portsmouth and in Serie A for Milan, is now famous in Spain as well. Only five players did so before him – Florin Raducioiu, Gheorghe Popescu, Jon Dahl Tomasson, Pierre Wome and Obafemi Martins.
It was a superb way to celebrate the comeback, after Boateng was written off by many as a has-been. The midfielder even considered retiring himself, but luckily the right offer came just in time.
Just three years ago, Boateng was rightfully considered one of the brightest stars in Italy, where Massimiliano Allegri turned him from a tough defensive midfielder into an imaginative playmaker with a knack of scoring spectacular goals. He thrived at San Siro, but one single disastrous decision ruined everything. In August 2013, just after Boateng scored a majestic brace for Milan to lead them past PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League qualifying playoffs, the Rossoneri faithful were stunned to hear Boateng was sold to Schalke for just €10million.
Jurgen Klopp was also surprised in the extreme. He briefly worked with Boateng when the star was loaned from Tottenham to Borussia Dortmund in 2009, and they have good memories of each other – in fact, Boateng claimed that Klopp is the best coach he has met in his entire career. Upon learning that his former protege was joining the big rivals from Gelsenkirchen, the coach humorously remarked: “He was a good guy, until this morning”. Klopp also revealed that he sent Boateng a text message, wondering: “Why Schalke????????” with eight question marks.
The midfielder was rather unhappy. “Many people thought that was funny, but I didn’t”, he said, evidently feeling ridiculed. And yet, it turned out that Klopp was right. During his stay at Schalke, Boateng couldn’t help but ask himself why he ever joined the club – not with eight question marks, but millions of them.
It never worked out for him in Gelsenkirchen. For starters, Ottmar Hitzfeld claimed that Milan sold their star because of medical problems with his knee. Schalke angrily denied that, but doubts remained, and Boateng’s form was inconsistent to put it mildly. Even more importantly, he had significant problems in the dressing room. In his autobiography, published this year, Boateng revealed that he never saw eye to eye with the captain Bendikt Howedes. “We couldn’t stand each other”, he wrote. His relationship with other team-mates also left a lot to be desired.
Boateng is no angel, of course. In his young days at Hertha Berlin, he was part of a rather violent gang, which included Ashkan Dejagah and Patrick Ebert. Controversy followed him elsewhere too, and he was famously sent home during the 2014 World Cup after a significant rift with Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah. Still, Schalke’s decision to suspend Boateng, and his team-mate Sidney Sam, in May 2015 was very unexpected.
“After long discussions, we decided to suspend them indefinitely. We have the feeling that the level of trust is no longer there, and we are not convinced that they can help us in the two remaining games”, sporting director Horst Heldt announced. Boateng claimed that he had no idea about the reasons behind such a drastic step, but something was very clearly broken beyond repair.
The blow was hard enough, but even harder was the gradual understanding that he doesn’t really have alternatives to continue his career. For more than seven months, Boateng remained out of work. While still technically a Schalke player, he was not allowed to train with the team. According to the midfielder, that was the toughest time in his career. “It was really hard not to have found a new club for such a long time, and also to have no club wanting to put their faith in me for such a long time,” Boateng told Bild, upon rejoining Milan in January 2016.
Fans at San Siro will never forget Boateng’s contribution during his first spell at the club, including a majestic goal against Barcelona in the Champions League and a phenomenal hat-trick that helped the team to come back from 3-0 down and beat Lecce 4-3. But that was in the past. The midfielder dearly wanted to prove himself again, but that was apparently impossible. Despite scoring on his home debut against Fiorentina, he barely featured in the plans and only figured once in the starting line-up. In May, Silvio Berlucsoni announced that his contract would not be renewed.
That’s when Las Palmas came into the frame. Granted, they are not the most glamorous club in the world, but it felt like the perfect opportunity for the unwanted 29-year-old who was close to retirement. Suddenly, he felt like a superstar once again. “Prince is our biggest foreign signing in the last decades”, the club announced. That is quite a statement, and the excitement was huge.
Hundreds of fans came to the airport to greet the Ghanaian upon his arrival, and the club sent Juan Carlos Valeron – the midfield maestro who retired in the summer – to meet him. “Valeron is a legend like Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi, and he wanted to take my suitcases”, Boateng said. About six thousand people welcomed the new star at the stadium when he was officially presented. That was a true love story, and Boateng was joining a positive project.
The coach, Quique Setien, personally convinced Boateng to sign. “He told me this is a quality team. I’ve seen some games, with modern attacking football. That will suit me well. It’s a new adventure for me. I chose Las Palmas because I felt wanted. I will approach the first game with all the enthusiasm in the world”, he said.
And so he did. The midfielder worked hard to get ready for the new season, and started at Valencia on the left wing in the 4-3-3 formation. Boateng’s brilliant pass to Dani Castellano led to a penalty, and then he scored an absolutely magnificent goal himself. In 60 minutes on the pitch, he proved to be very much in form, and hopefully more is to follow. Las Palmas fans are optimistic, and some even claim that Europa League qualification could be within their reach.
Sunday will be a big occasion for Gran Canaria, as Boateng will make his home debut against Granada. That could be a day to remember, and – who knows – it might be a season to cherish as well.
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