The Brothers Boateng
Three brothers, three dramatically different fates.
Jérôme and Kevin Prince Boateng are two of the world's most elite soccer players on the world's most elite stage, the FIFA World Cup. One brother, Jérôme, chose to play for the land of his mother: Germany. Kevin-Prince chose instead to play for the land of his ancestors, the country from which his father emigrated: Ghana. Meanwhile, their older brother, George, who taught his younger brothers everything they know, is now a father and a musician after spending what would have been his prime soccer years in jail. Three brothers, three dramatically different fates.
Prince Boateng immigrated to Berlin from Sunyani, Ghana in 1981. He married a German woman and the couple settled in Wedding, which at that point was one of the rougher areas in Berlin. George Boateng was born shortly thereafter. In the early years, it was just the three of them, and George spent much his time teaching himself how to play soccer. "George had it harder than the rest of us," said Jérôme in the best-selling book about the three, "Die Brüder Boateng: Drei deutsche Karrieren." "No one taught him anything, he had to learn for himself what was right and wrong [on the soccer field]." Three years later, Kevin-Prince was born and shortly thereafter their father, Prince Boateng, left their mother for another woman: Jerome's mother, Martina. Jérôme was born a year after Kevin-Prince.
"Kevin was Jérôme's idol," Martina Boateng told Der Spiegel about their early relationship. Martina and her son had settled in Charlottenburg, Berlin after Prince left them, too, when Jérôme was five. The three boys would meet regularly and spent much of their time perfecting their soccer skills. George taught the younger boys the finer points of handling a soccer ball, and both boys looked up to him. Still, it was evident even early on that their paths would split.
"I got into a lot of trouble. Fights, probation. I had a short fuse, and I was a bad role model for Kevin," George Boateng said of their upbringing. His "short-fuse" was responsible for his troubled high-school years. Drinking, smoking, violence – eventually his exploits landed him in jail - an experience he considers a wakeup call. There are two choices when you go to jail, George recently told a reporter from the Berliner Kurier. Either you end up worse than you were before, or you stop your bad behavior completely. For George it wasn't a choice at all; he came out of jail in control of his temper and ready to start a new life. Ten years later, it may be bittersweet for him looking at the success of the brothers he taught, but he says he is happy just to cheer for them.
George describes Kevin as ambitious and Jérôme as a perfectionist. Indeed, early in their careers these descriptions were easy to see. Kevin always wanted to be the best, always believed he was number one. Jérôme, meanwhile, put the time and effort into perfecting every movement and memorizing every defense technique. But success went to Kevin's head, and he was soon partying too much and making a name for himself as the new Bad Boy Boateng.
Kevin quickly became a star in the lower levels of international play. He played for Germany for years at the U21 level, and many say that he could have easily joined the Germany National Team squad in time for the 2010 World Cup. But Kevin had different plans. His troubled upbringing coupled with a few bad experiences on the U21 squad made his decision for him: he would play for Ghana. The decision surprised many of his friends and family, but nevertheless they were happy for him.
That same year it was also time for Jérôme to choose his team, which he says wasn't a choice at all. "I never thought of playing for Ghana," he told Der Spiegel shortly before the 2010 World Cup. "It doesn't make any sense. Germany is my home. I like the people here, and the mentality," he said. "The fact that Kevin made a different choice is his business. But he's my half-brother, and I'm happy for him." Jérôme had always dreamed of playing for "Die Mannschaft," so when the call came that he would make the 23-man roster, he was ecstatic.
The groups for the World Cup are traditionally decided on months in advance, so when Germany and Ghana landed in the same group, it came as a shock to the brothers Boateng, who would be facing each other for the first time on an international stage. There was bad blood already between the two teams, owing to Kevin-Prince's career ending foul against former National Team captain Michael Ballack in the Premier League regular season. The brothers, who were normally on good terms, went into the match with tension between them. In the end, Ghana lost, but both teams advanced to the round of sixteen. Kevin-Prince and Jérôme made history that day by becoming the first brothers to ever play on opposing teams during the World Cup. It seemed unlikely that it would ever happen again, but the soccer fates had different plans.
The draw for the 2014 World Cup groups happened in late 2013, and by a twist of fate Germany and Ghana ended up once again grouped together. Circumstances are different now, though. Both players have refined their game, both are starters on their squads. Kevin is a father now, and has cleaned up his act dramatically. Jérôme, on the other hand, has let his quiet talent speak for itself, and is just as well-known as his brother for his talent and skill. Both are players in the Bundesliga, Jérôme for the powerhouse FC Bayern and Kevin for FC Schalke. They have competed against each other all year long, and now, instead of dreading it, they are excited to face each other. Their family will doubtlessly be cheering for both brothers, though George recently said ruefully, "My heart beats for Ghana. Germany is so strong, they don't need another supporter."
For Kevin and Jérôme the Germany vs. Ghana game on June 20 will be another of the millions of games they played against each other in back alleys in Berlin.
Written By Lauren Rogers