The experts were divided on the wisdom of Jerome Boateng’s switch from Manchester City to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2011. The young centre-half's fundamental quality was not in doubt, but the man who has now reached the age of 26 was a frequent target for criticism due to numerous basic errors and lapses in concentration.
But Boateng has gone on to silence the critics. The imposing defender is one of the first names on the team-sheet for both Bayern and Germany and on his day is an immovable object for even the most deadly strikers.
The German media have already dubbed him 'Mister Unbeatable', although his incredible league-record streak 56 Bundesliga games unbeaten with Bayern finally came to an end on Friday. Born and bred in Berlin, the physically powerful player made a huge contribution to Germany’s 2014 FIFA World Cup™ triumph in Brazil and was one of the outstanding performers in the Final in Rio de Janeiro.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, the father of twins discussed his dramatic progress as a player in recent seasons, his feelings when the final whistle blew in Rio, his targets for the rest of the season, and what it is like to face your own brother in an international.
FIFA.com: Jerome, during your spell in England you found out what it’s like to play through a season without a winter break. How important is a mid-season break to you personally?
Jerome Boateng: It was very important in the year after a World Cup. I think it’s good for football in general actually, as it’s time off to take a deep breath and rebuild your energy. So it was especially important this time.
Wouldn’t you have preferred to play through the break this season? You were in magnificent form before Christmas.
Thank you. When you’re in the groove you obviously just want to keep playing. But if you look ahead to the games we will hopefully have coming up when there are trophies at stake in April or May, the winter break is a good opportunity to build up reserves of strength.
There’s fierce competition for the centre-back positions at Bayern, and apart from you, there is Dante, Mehdi Benatia and now also Holger Badstuber, who’s back from a long injury lay-off. How certain are you of a regular starting berth?
I’ll try to show that I deserve to retain my place in the starting line-up in every training session. I want to make it really hard for the boss to overlook me.
You were red-carded in a Champions League match in December 2012 for a foul on the halfway line. But once you’d served out your ban you were a man transformed and your form improved dramatically. What happened there?
Yes, I’d agree that it all took off from then on. I took a good, long look at myself and worked exceptionally hard on my game. I put in a lot of individual training sessions with [assistant coach] Peter Hermann and spent a lot of time talking to Jupp Heynckes. I made really good progress after that.
It was a private moment for me alone. It was indescribable.
Where could you still improve?
In every area. You can never stop learning. You can always keep getting better in terms of positional play, heading, tackling and posing a threat in front of goal. I’m certainly not perfect.
The FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala included the unveiling of the world team of the year. Were you surprised not to be in it?
It would have been nice, but I’ve won the World Cup, and that matters a lot more to me personally than making it into a team of the year.
How often do you reflect on the triumph in Brazil?
What actually happens more often is that other people want to talk about it. I’m not the kind of guy to start meditating deeply on what happened in Brazil. I‘m still giving it time to sink in properly. At some point in the future I’ll watch the whole thing again and turn it over in my head. It’ll be much more valuable that way.
Where’s your World Cup winner’s medal now?
I’ve hung it up at home and it’s in a very nice place.
In the book 'One Night in Rio' you wrote that the moment immediately after the final whistle against Argentina was very special and highly personal. Tell us what was going through your head.
First of all I just felt immense gratitude, for being where I was and for the opportunity to win the World Cup with my team. And then I thought about how I started in football, out by our front door with my father, kicking a ball around when I was three. Then I mentally fast-forwarded through the clubs and events in my career. It was a private moment for me alone. It was indescribable.
Is there anything about your career you would change if you could?
Nothing at all. I regret none of the steps I’ve taken, including going to Manchester where I had a year full of bad luck with two serious knee injuries. When you look back on it I think I’ve done the right things and I’m happy. You learn a huge amount from adversity. When I was in Hamburg for example, I had a really tough spell under [Martin] Jol. But I’ve been at Bayern since 2011, and given everything I’ve achieved so far, I don’t think I can complain.
A lot of players are coming back now and we’ve also had a decent period to train and prepare, so I’m confident we’ll get stuck into qualifying and make it through to the EURO.
You went head-to-head with your brother Kevin-Prince of Ghana at the World Cup. What’s it like having a brother play for a different country?
On the one hand it’s a bit odd, but on the other it’s fantastic too. It’s terrific that something like that can come about in the first place and that we have two players in our family capable of performing at that level.
Have you talked to him at all about the situation being a little strange?
Yes indeed, although it’s always been more by the way of pre-match banter. Obviously we’re perfectly aware it’s a strange situation and we’re used to it. We never played in the same team when we were young and never went on to do so, apart from a spell at Hertha.
What can Bayern achieve this season?
A lot! We’re still in with a chance of three trophies and we have big, ambitious targets. We know we’ll have to keep working very hard and hit peak form at the right time. But we have the potential and if we deliver when it matters we have a good chance.
As for Germany, the target is qualifying for UEFA EURO 2016, although in the aftermath of winning the World Cup the campaign has been patchy. Can you turn it around?
Yes, we have to. It wasn’t easy after the World Cup but we should still have taken more points. A lot of players are coming back now and we’ve also had a decent period to train and prepare, so I’m confident we’ll get stuck into qualifying and make it through to the EURO.
Why do you think Germany have had a few problems?
Everyone obviously wants to beat the world champions, and on the whole we didn’t play well either, although against Poland I reckon we were actually the better rather than the worse team. But we have to be playing better football and creating far more chances against Ireland and Scotland. Especially against Ireland in Schalke, when it simply wasn’t good enough.