A prodigal prince’s return: Boateng back at AC Milan with potential still to fufil
So now we know one of the ways Mario Balotelli was passing his time during the long injury lay-off, which dampened hopes that his return to AC Milan would quickly rejuvenate his career and the fortunes of the club he grew up supporting.
He was, in December, busy composing a tribute to his friend, Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Boateng, who has recently rejoined Balotelli at Milan, released his memoir I, Prince. My Life, My Game, My Reckoning in Germany this weekend.
Turn the first few pages, and you reach the prologue contributed by Balotelli.
Evidently thrilled that Boateng would, for the second spell in both their chequered careers, again become his companion in the Milan dressing-room, he looks forward to reviving the wagers they used to share about who could show “the most eccentric fashion sense” or turn up in the car with the most bling.
How much the management of Milan – whose coach Sinisa Mihajlovic left a heavy hint that he was dissatisfied with Balotelli’s application when the much-travelled striker made his latest appearance as a substitute, against Genoa – will enjoy the reunion of these two serial mavericks remains to be seen.
Prince, as Boateng prefers to be known, “is a dressing-room joker, a mega-entertainer”, Balotelli enthuses, “he even makes Silvio Berlusconi – the Milan president – burst out laughing”.
Boateng’s life has not always been so full of mirth. In the years before he moon-danced through the celebrations of Milan’s 2011 Serie A title – the last peak of a club who are in a long, stubborn slump – he had become notorious in his native Germany.
He was born to privileged genes, or so his mother told him, as the great nephew of Helmut Rahn, a member of Germany’s 1954 World Cup-winning team. His half-brother, Jerome, with whom he shares a father, won the 2014 World Cup with Germany.
Boateng’s childhood gave him few material advantages. The Berlin district, Wedding, where he grew up “may not be a classic ghetto”, he writes, “but it’s hard to live there and not end up on the wrong path”. He had witnessed an urban gunfight by the age of 10, he reports.
Boateng chose the wrong path on many occasions as a teenager, though his talent at football shone out at Hertha Berlin, whose academy he was enrolled in.
He was capped regularly at youth level for Germany but after disciplinary issues and failing to progress as a player as anticipated, chose to represent Ghana, with whom he went to two World Cups, the last of which, in Brazil ended in acrimony with the management. His story has many such rows in it.
Among the most prominent is the one with Michael Ballack, the former German captain, who Boateng injured with a late tackle in the 2010 FA Cup final – Boateng was then at Portsmouth, who lost to Ballack’s Chelsea – and thus ruled Ballack out of that summer’s World Cup.
He writes he received death threats from Germans, racist abuse in the street, as a result but that unnamed members of the Germany squad also sent him messages saying they were pleased Ballack would not be with them for the tournament.
There had been an edge between the two since Boateng, now 28, was a rookie, he reports.
“Who do you think you are?” Boateng apparently said to Ballack during a match between Hertha and Bayern Munich, then Ballack’s club. “A star,” Ballack replied, according to the Boateng memoir.
There is plenty of reckoning in the pages detailing a career that has switched between three clubs in Germany, two each in Italy and England.
“I haven’t always given 100 per cent,” Boateng owns up. “I should have achieved more.”
Milan, who brought Boateng back after he had fallen out with Schalke, hope that means he has resolved to make up for the squandered opportunities, and that he might even help guide Balotelli towards greater fulfilment, too.
Player to watch
Renato Sanches – Aged 18, the prolific scorer for Benfica in Portugal does not appear to be able to go a week without being linked to a big-money move to one of Europe’s big clubs.
Renato began the season with Benfica B, playing in the second division. He had only turned 18 in August. He made his debut as a substitute against Tondela in the Primeira Liga at the end of October and has not looked back. A goal in his second start, against Coimbra, preceded a senior five-and-a-half year contract, signed in December.
Renato was born in Lisbon and grew up on the outskirts of the Portuguese capital. His family come from Cabo Verde, the islands off the coast of West Africa whose diaspora includes a number of talented footballers, from Swedish striker Henrik Larsson, to the former France midfielder Patrick Vieira, to the Portuguese international winger Nani.
Renato is committed to representing the land of his birth and has played for Portugal at various age-group levels 40 times. He was attached to Benfica’s youth system throughout his teens. “He’s a reflection of the work of our academy, and the club should be proud of that,” Benfica head coach Rui Vitoria said last week.
Renato’s new contract reportedly includes an €80 million (Dh325.6m) buyout clause. The hype around him has been busy in the last two months, with comparisons made with Juventus’ Paul Pogba, for his creativity and eye for goals from distance, and with the former Netherlands midfielder, Edgar Davids. He has been linked with Manchester United and Real Madrid among others.
Euro 2016 bound?
In the short term, before they cash in, Benfica hope he can galvanise their defence of the league title, where they trail Porto. They also hope he can help the club into the last eight of the Uefa Champions League. There is a chance he may earn a spot in Portugal’s squad for Euro 2016, as well.
Match of the week
Bayern Munich could make club history on Saturday as a clean sheet against Darmstadt in the Bundesliga would see Pep Guardiola’s side go a record six home games without conceding a goal.
Arsenal were the last club to score against Bayern at Munich’s Allianz Arena back in November when Olivier Giroud scored the London side’s consolation in a 5-1 loss.
Since that Uefa Champions League group game, Bayern have won all five of their home games in all competitions without conceding a goal and hold an eight-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
Guardiola’s team are in no mood to give Darmstadt any hope of a first win in Munich in their final match before their Champions League last-16, first-leg clash at Juventus next Tuesday.
This is especially as Darmstadt have picked up 17 of their 24 points this season away from home.
“They will play very deep and very compact,” Bayern midfielder Xabi Alonso said. “We will have to be patient and it’ll be important to get the first goal.
“It’s all about Darmstadt for now, we want to keep our eight-point lead. Only afterwards will we think about Juventus.”
With 21 goals to his credit, Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has scored almost as many goals as the 22 the entire Darmstadt team have managed.
The visitors’ cause is not helped by a raft of suspensions. Peter Niemeyer, Jerome Gondorf, Aytac Sulu, Marcel Heller and Konstantin Rausch are all banned after each picked up yellow cards in last Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen.
“We have registered that. However, I believe that no one wants to miss this chance to play in front of an audience of millions,” Darmstadt coach Dirk Schuster said confidently.
* Agence France-Presse
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Published: February 19, 2016 04:00 AM