On 23 June 2010, Germany and Ghana took to the pitch for a group stage match at the World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. This was a unique event in World Cup history. Over the years, football has seen many pairs of siblings represent their national teams, but this particular match saw two brothers play for different nations. Representing Germany was Jérôme Boateng, and on the other side was Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Going into the game, the Ghanaian Boateng had to endure his fair share of criticism. The German fans weren’t happy with his tackle on Michael Ballack, Germany’s captain, in the FA Cup final a few weeks prior to the start of the World Cup. His brother, Jérôme, hadn’t spoken to him in the days leading up to the tournament and this match had a unique sub-plot to it. On the pitch, the pair remained professional as ever. Joachim Löw’s team ended up winning that night, but this clash had more to it than just the three points.
The Boatengs’ story goes back 29 years prior to that meeting. It was in 1981 that their father, Prince, moved to Berlin from Ghana and had two sons, George and Kevin-Prince, in March 1987. Jérôme, meanwhile, was born to Prince’s second wife just 18 months later, but they all grew up in the same city, often playing football together. It is often believed George was the most talented footballer of the trio, but his troubled upbringing derailed his career. Instead, the two younger brothers made the most of their talents.
The elder pair lived away from Jérôme, who was raised with his father, but they all played at the Hertha Berlin academy. While George drifted away from football, Kevin-Prince was earning a reputation as a bright forward, even representing the Germany youth teams. He won the prestigious Fritz Walter Medal in 2006, given to the nation’s best under-19 footballer, before moving to Tottenham a year later.
Jérôme was doing well, too. A year after his older brother won that medal, he achieved the same feat and then moved to Hamburg.
It was in 2009 that things changed. After a few years of representing his country of birth, Kevin-Prince switched allegiance to Ghana. This decision came after he was left out of the squad for the Under-21 European Championships having visited a nightclub shortly before the tournament, something that angered Matthias Sammer, the technical director of the DFB. “A lack of discipline and a certain egotism can be discerned in Kevin-Prince,” said Sammer. “When it comes to his athletic and mental constitution, Jérôme is the stronger player.”
While all this was happening, he was also struggling to adapt to life in England. He would hardly make an impact, even returning to Germany with Borussia Dortmund for a short loan, where manager Jürgen Klopp was keen on making his move permanent but couldn’t do so because of the club’s finances. Instead, he would move to Portsmouth in 2009.
Meanwhile, the younger Boateng was enjoying steady progress. He won the Under-21 Euros with a group featuring the likes of Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Mesut Özil, whilst also enjoying life in the Bundesliga with Hamburg. That group would be a part of a youthful squad that travelled to South Africa for the World Cup a year later. Waiting to meet them was one Kevin-Prince.
The build-up to the group stage was centered around Kevin-Prince’s role in Ballack’s injury and with his reputation in his country of birth already at a low, he was keen on protecting his image: “I never meant to hurt him. I apologised on the spot – it was a late challenge, nothing more. The media have given me this bad boy tag, and they just sit and wait for me to do something stupid. But I’m 23 now, I’m married, and I have a son. I hope I can rid myself of this reputation over time.”
Germany would end up finishing third at the World Cup, while Ghana had an impressive run to the quarter-finals. That summer it was all change once again, as Kevin-Prince moved to Italy with AC Milan to win Serie A.
Jérôme went to Manchester City, where, just like his older half-brother, he endured a frustrating time due to injuries. After just a season, Bayern Munich banked on his potential and he would return to Germany. From there the half-brothers took different paths.
Kevin-Prince stayed at San Siro for three years before moving around Europe. Stints at Schalke, a brief six-month return to Milan, Las Palmas, Frankfurt, Sassuolo, Barcelona, Fiorentina and Beşiktaş would follow. Meanwhile, Jérôme was a mainstay in Bayern’s team, becoming one of the Bundesliga’s most consistent defenders. He was a part of the team that won the treble in 2013 and 2020, whilst also forming the heart of the national team’s defence alongside Mats Hummels.
It was in 2014 that Jérôme would cross paths with Kevin-Prince on the international stage for the second time. Once again, it was the World Cup. This time the location was Fortaleza, Brazil, the match an entertaining 2-2 draw. That year, Ghana failed to get past the group stages, while Jérôme and Germany went all the way, winning the World Cup for the first time as a unified nation.
Despite their diverging career paths, the brothers both shared common principles. Both are always proud of their heritage and speak up against racism wherever they have played. Kevin-Prince famously walked out of a friendly whilst playing for Milan and claimed the support of the football world. Jérôme has also been vocal on the subject, speaking about his pride of playing for Germany despite opposition to it from many.
Kevin-Prince and Jérôme may share the same surname but have had different careers. One has been flamboyant across Europe and played for a country that didn’t always guarantee success on the international scene, while the other showed composure for club and nation, becoming a rock at the back and enjoying deserved success. They’ve both shown their qualities, albeit in different environments and circumstances, and will go down in football folklore as a unique brotherhood.
By Karan Tejwani @karan_tejwani26