There is no doubt it has been a colourful route from Berlin, via Milan and Barcelona, and back, but amid all the razzmatazz, look behind the tattoos and beyond the bling and you will see: Kevin-Prince Boateng is an exceptional footballer.
The Berlin Wall was still some months away from falling when Kevin-Prince Boateng was born in the German capital in early March 1987, but given his cosmopolitan upbringing and a career in which he has collected almost as many clubs as Air Miles, you suspect no man-made barrier would ever have stopped him bridging the gap between countries and cultures.
You just need to look at his very first club to understand the mindset of a man who has played in four of Europe’s top five leagues, and counts Hertha, Tottenham Hotspur, Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan, Schalke, Eintracht Frankfurt and Barcelona among the 14 professional clubs whose shirt he has pulled on.
The heady surrounds of the Camp Nou and sharing a dressing-room with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal & Co. are a long way from the modest stadium of the Reinickendorfer Füchse, the west Berlin team Boateng joined as a child.
The son of a Ghanaian father and German mother, his family background was well suited to a club where Iran international Ashkan Dejagah — a 2008/09 Bundesliga title winner with Wolfsburg — Tunisia international and former Hertha, Frankfurt and Hamburg man Änis Ben-Hatira, as well as ex-Hertha and Mainz midfielder Chinedu Ede, whose dad is Nigerian, all came through.
He could have excelled if he had joined the club’s jazz or street dance sections — anyone who saw his Moonwalk after winning the Serie A title with Milan in 2011 can vouch for that — but he opted to dip his twinkle-toed feet into football.
Watch: Owo meets Kevin-Prince Boateng
That raw talent was in-built: his father, Prince, had played for the Füchse as a defender; his mother, Christine, played football herself and is related to Helmut Rahn, Germany’s 1954 FIFA World Cup final matchwinner in the ‘Miracle of Berne’ victory against the legendary Hungary side led by Ferenc Puskas.
Hertha were soon keen to tap into Boateng’s natural-born potential, and aged seven, he was snapped up by the German capital’s premier club. He worked his way into the first team, culminating in a Bundesliga debut on Matchday 2 of the 2005/06 season when he came off the bench at half-time in a 2-0 win over Frankfurt at the Olympic Stadium.
By coincidence, it was in the surroundings of Hertha’s magnificent home that he would play the — for the moment, at least — last of his matches as a player at a Bundesliga club, helping Frankfurt to a memorable DFB Cup final win over Bayern Munich at the end of the 2017/18 campaign.
“I didn’t just leave Germany to be closer to my family, but also because [Niko] Kovac was gone,” said Boateng to explain his move to Serie A side Sassuolo as his ex-Frankfurt boss headed to Bayern last summer.
“It’s no secret that I went to Eintracht for him, but more than anything, I wanted to leave a positive memory with a German team. Knowing I can return to Frankfurt and the people will welcome me with open arms is beautiful.”
He did not leave only a positive impression in Germany’s financial capital.
His winning of the Fritz Walter bronze medal in the U18 category in 2005 and his triumph in the senior U19 category 12 months later gave tangible proof of the quality he was showing on the pitch for Hertha, who — after four goals in 42 league outings — saw him move to Tottenham Hotspur.
Just 18 months later, he was back in Germany though with then-Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp calling him “a great guy” as Boateng played a ten-match cameo for BVB while on loan for the second half of the 2008/09 season.
It gave him the chance to play against his half-brother, Bayern’s Jerome — then at Hamburg after having first played with Kevin-Prince at Hertha — for the first time, a duel they would notably reprise at FIFA World Cups in 2010 and 2014 as well as in the Bundesliga when Kevin-Prince returned to Germany to join Schalke in 2013 after a season at Portsmouth and three years in Milan.
More than four years since his last Bundesliga appearance and after giving a speech to the United Nations having been named one of its anti-racism ambassadors, Boateng pulled on Schalke’s number 9 shirt and stepped onto the pitch to resume his relationship with the German top flight in a 2-0 defeat of Bayer Leverkusen.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for a man who has moved so much, he quickly settled into his new home and was named the player of the month by Schalke’s discerning fans in October 2013 as he shone in a range of positions from defensive midfield to makeshift central striker when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was sidelined by injury.
Six goals in 46 Bundesliga appearances later — and a dose of more controversy for a man who himself admitted that “if it weren’t for football, I would have become a criminal” — Boateng was heading back to Milan to end the 2015/16 season before a first taste of La Liga football with Las Palmas.
Twelve months later, though, and his wanderlust brought him to Frankfurt where billions are traded on the DAX stock exchange, but not a single cent was handed over as Boateng arrived with no strings attached.
“We’re convinced that he can take on an important role. Kevin is a winner with an irrepressible will,” Frankfurt sporting director Fredi Bobic had said when Boateng put pen to paper on a three-year deal.
He only stayed for one, but Boateng proved Bobic right, and if he claimed “90 percent of our success is down to Niko Kovac,” a large part of the remaining 10 percent was down to him.
Watch: A KPB highlight reel
His first Bundesliga goal for Frankfurt — the winner against Borussia Mönchengladbach on Matchday 3 — set the tone for a campaign in which he was the common thread in the team’s performances while he also encouraged young talents such as Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic to come out of their shells.
“We know how much talent he has. He simply just has to confirm that,” said Boateng of Jovic, who has done just that in the 2018/19 season, while he described Rebic as “a machine”.
In a Frankfurt shirt, Boateng proved he was that too, and Barcelona’s desire to add themselves to his lengthy CV suggests his boast that, “I know – without sounding arrogant – I could’ve played at Real Madrid“, was not a boast at all.
A switch from the Catalan giants to their nemesis at the Santiago Bernabeu is difficult to envisage given their bitter rivalry, but the blaugrana were not the last club to make good use of his talents.
“It’s no secret that I’d always been eyeing a return to Hertha,” Boateng said after rejoining the Old Lady in summer 2021, following stints with Fiorentina, Besiktas and Monza. “The fact that it’s finally worked out makes me very proud.”
Having previously stated, “my dream is to one day end my career with Hertha”, Bundesliga fans can expect the Prince’s final reign to go down an absolute storm.