Kevin-Prince Boateng has ridden a metaphorical roller-coaster this season. On the up-side, his club Portsmouth defied expectations to reach the FA Cup final, where they fell narrowly to Chelsea. On the down-side, the midfielder and his team-mates bade farewell to the English top flight after being docked nine points for entering administration.
The player, who insists he has moved on from the bad boy image beloved of the media, is now focusing all his attention on the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The 23-year-old was born in Berlin but has opted to play for Ghana, and in an ironic twist of fate, he is now set to face his country of birth at the finals.
The eagerly-awaited group fixture has even more of an edge to it now, after Boateng’s challenge on Michael Ballack in the FA Cup final caused the injury that forced the Germany captain to pull out of the FIFA World Cup™. Interviewed by FIFA.com, former Germany junior international Boateng spoke about his reputation, assessed Ghana’s chances in South Africa, and named his favourites for the global showdown.
FIFA.com: Kevin, you’ve faced a storm of criticism for the foul which put Germany captain Michael Ballack out of the FIFA World Cup. You’re still a young player, so how have you coped?
Kevin-Prince Boateng: Let me say first of all how sorry I am that Michael can’t play at the World Cup. I never meant to hurt him, and I apologised to him on the spot. It was just a late challenge, nothing more. I have this image as a bad boy and it was quite a laugh at the start. These things amuse you as an 18-year-old. But I’m 23 now, I’m married and I have a son. The image is a burden now. The media have given me this tag and they just sit and wait for me to do something stupid. But the people who know me realise I’m not like that. The most important things to me are my family and football, and I hope I can rid myself of this bad boy reputation over time.
Turning to football, let’s have a look back over your career to date, which began in Berlin.
When I was a little kid, I played in the Berlin streets with my brothers and my dad. I started at Hertha when I was just seven. I played for all the youth teams and eventually signed as a pro. I had a few problems at the start, mainly due to the pace and the hard tackling, but I was lucky enough to be playing alongside some really helpful older players. Niko Kovac, Dick van Burik and Fredi Bobic gave me a lot of support. I’m still really grateful to those guys.
At just 20, you switched to Tottenham Hotspur in England. Why did you opt for the Premier League?
I became personally unhappy in Berlin, so I wanted to change clubs. Sevilla and Tottenham Hotspur both came in for me, and at the end of the day I opted for Spurs, because I’d always wanted to play in the Premier League.
It didn’t work out in north London though and you only made a handful of appearances, so you went out on loan to Borussia Dortmund.
It was a difficult time for me. Spurs boss Martin Jol told me he thought I was a good player, but there was no place for me in his system, so I lost a year-and-a-half when I hardly played. By contrast, I had a very positive time in Dortmund. I had six terrific months there. I fitted in really well with the club, the coach and the team.
You maintained your good form for Portsmouth last season. Were you satisfied with yourself?
You can always do better, but I had a decent season and learned a lot. We gave it everything we had as a team, and I’m really upset about what’s happened to the club. I’ve yet to think through my future at club level. I have two more years on my contract, but I’m concentrating totally on South Africa now. We’ll see what happens after that. But obviously, the eyes of the world are on the World Cup, so it can always be a showcase for a player.
You played for Germany as a youth, but you’re a member of the Ghana squad for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. What are the reasons behind your choice?
I really enjoyed playing for Germany. It was recognition for all the work I put in, and the German FA really helped me develop as a player. But I made mistakes. I had a feeling the German FA wasn’t prepared to forgive me and I wouldn’t be given another chance for the national team. I delivered for my clubs, but I was never mentioned in connection with the Germany set-up. By comparison, I could have turned out for Ghana at the 2006 World Cup and at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. I was still holding out hopes of being picked for Germany and playing alongside my brother Jerome, so I turned Ghana down. But now I’ve made a rational decision, with my head rather than my heart.
Ghana have landed in a tough group. How would you rate Germany, Serbia and Australia?
I think Germany are favourites, although you have to fancy the Serbs too. But I know we have quality in the team, and I’m convinced we can spring a surprise.
On 23 June, you’re very likely to face your country of birth and probably your brother too, as he’s in the Germany squad.
Obviously, the Germany game is a special one for me. But I can promise the Ghana fans this: I play to win, even against my brother – or my father or mother, for that matter.
This is the first FIFA World Cup in Africa. What does it mean for the African people?
This World Cup is incredibly important for the continent as a whole. I’m expecting a tournament full of joy and excitement, like four years ago in Germany. Everyone in Africa’s looking forward to the finals.
Finally, who are favourites to win the FIFA World Cup?
Côte d’Ivoire are there or thereabouts. They have a superstar in almost every position. They’ve again been drawn in a tough group, but the time has come for them to make their mark. All their players are at top European clubs. If they can play well as a team, they could go a long way. Spain are also very strong contenders, and I see them in the final. And you can never discount Brazil and Germany.