Germany vs. Ghana The Boateng Brothers' World Cup Duel
Half-brothers Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng grew up in Berlin as the sons of an African immigrant. They could end up playing on opposite sides at the World Cup in a few weeks, with one playing for Germany and the other for Ghana.
Jerome Boateng has four tattoos. One of them, on his right forearm, consists of the word "Agyenim" and runs all the way from just above his wrist to his elbow. It is his middle name and means "the Great One" in Ashanti-Twi, the language of his father, who comes from Ghana. The 21-year old, whose mother is from Berlin, is a defender for the German national soccer team.
Jerome has never been to Ghana, and yet he somehow feels connected to the African country, though he can't quite explain why. He likes to listen to music from Ghana, because it sounds cheerful, and he has a few Ghanaian friends. "But it was clear to me early on that I only wanted to play for Germany."
Kevin-Prince Boateng has 13 tattoos. One of them, on his right upper arm, depicts a skull and four aces, with the words "The World Is Yours" in English.
Kevin-Prince is Jerome's half-brother. They have the same father. He too is a professional football player, but he prefers music by German rapper Bushido, whose songs are about whores and anal sex. His mother's name is Christine, and through her he is related to legendary football player Helmut Rahn. Known as "The Boss," Kevin-Prince's great-uncle scored the winning goal for Germany in the final of the 1954 World Cup.
'Proud to Be African'
Like Jerome, Kevin-Prince was born in Berlin. Most of what he knows about Ghana, his father's country, comes from stories he has heard. Nevertheless, he says: "I'm proud to be an African."
The 23-year-old is hoping to play for the Black Stars, Ghana's national team. He has applied for a Ghanaian passport, which is only a formality at this point. The Ghana Football Association is depending on him to be a member of its team when it heads to South Africa for the World Cup in June.
As youngsters the half-brothers played for the same club, Hertha BSC, both as amateurs and then professionals. They left the club three years ago. Jerome now plays for Hamburg SV, though he looks set to move to an English club next season, while Kevin-Prince plays for Portsmouth, in England's Premier League.
Their paths could cross again as soon as June 23, when Germany is set to play Ghana at the World Cup, in Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium. It is the last match in Group D, and it is highly likely that it will end up being a family duel, with one brother, Kevin-Prince, playing as an attacking midfielder for Ghana and the other, Jerome, as a defender for Germany.
Like many children of immigrants, Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng have a diffuse relationship to their nationality and roots, with two hearts beating in their chests. When it comes to playing for the national team, however, they can only opt for one country.
Kevin-Prince walks through the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Southampton, wearing baggy jeans and clunky sneakers. He has the broad shoulders of a professional footballer.
Most Promising New Player
Many observers had predicted that he would end up on the German team eventually. Kevin-Prince Boateng had played 41 times for the German Football Association's junior teams. In July 2005, he scored the "goal of the month" when he hammered the ball into the net from the half-way line during a game for the U19 national team. In 2006, a jury selected him as the most promising new player of the year. But then, last summer, he announced that he would only play for Ghana from then on. It was a surprising decision, but he had made up his mind.
Kevin-Prince looks around the lobby, searching for his manager. A short man from Cologne, with shoulder-length hair and carrying a briefcase, the manager is standing in the corner near a television set. He backpacked through India in his younger days. "I lived on the streets for a year," he says. "That's where you learn humility."
The two men sit down in armchairs. Kevin-Prince pulls his mobile phone from his jacket pocket and stares absent-mindedly at the screen. His manager says: "If Ghana wins the World Cup, the whole continent will be on fire. And Kevin will be a star." That's the plan.
Jerome Boateng is sitting at a table next to the window at Salentino's, an Italian restaurant in Hamburg's Winterhude neighborhood. It's getting dark outside as rain pelts against the windowpane. He smells of cologne, but not overpoweringly, and he has a diamond stud in each ear. He orders an arugula salad and a bottle of mineral water. For a national player, Jerome Boateng is thinner than one would expect. He speaks quietly and seems almost shy. "I never thought of playing for Ghana," he says.
"Because it doesn't make any sense. Germany is my home. I like the people here, and the mentality," he says. "The fact that Kevin made a different choice is his business. But he's my half-brother, and I'm happy for him."
'Why Should You Make It?'
Jerome grew up in Berlin's Wilmersdorf neighborhood, in a three-room apartment not far from the Kurfürstendamm, West Berlin's main shopping boulevard. His father moved out when Jerome was five. His mother, Martina, was a flight attendant for British Airways, and she now works for Lufthansa.
Martina Boateng comes to the restaurant straight from the dentist, where she has just had a molar pulled. Her upper jaw is still numb. She orders a cup of coffee, although she is not supposed to drink anything. Jerome's mother says that she never wanted her son to become a football player. She wanted him to learn something worthwhile, something with a future. "I used to annoy him by asking: Why should you, of all people, make it as a professional?"
She was also opposed to his attending Hertha BSC's youth academy, because she has a low opinion of comprehensive schools. Nevertheless, Jerome attended the Poelchau secondary school, an "elite sports school," until the 10th grade. He didn't do well in biology, physics and mathematics, but good grades were important to his mother.
Martina Boateng carefully sips her coffee. The anesthetic hasn't worn off yet. "At the time, I didn't recognize how determined Jerome was. Today I have to say: Kudos!"
Kevin-Prince, his half-brother, visited often when they were growing up. Jerome went to the movies with him, and they played table tennis or basketball together. But most of the time they played football. "Kevin was Jerome's idol," says Martina Boateng. She rolls her eyes, as if it were something she doesn't like to think about. "I really like Kevin. He's funny, a clown. He loves to make people laugh. But he can't accept a subordinate role, he has a big mouth and he doesn't obey the rules. That always comes through." When the boys were younger, she feared that Kevin would be a bad influence on her son.
For a time, Jerome adopted a sort of affected immigrant dialect, speaking in rudimentary sentences without articles. But that was the extent of his rebelliousness. Today Jerome is the epitome of the modern professional athlete. He doesn't drink and he doesn't smoke. He likes to spend time on his Playstation. His mother says: "Jerome figured out on his own that all the way Kevin acts isn't necessarily all that great."
- Part 1: The Boateng Brothers' World Cup Duel
- Part 2: Different Personalities and Playing Styles
- Part 3: A Score to Settle with Germany?