A few days before Bayern MunichÔÇÖs trip to Gelsenkirchen to play Schalke 04, Jerome Boateng, the Bayern defender, received a text from his elder brother. ÔÇ£CanÔÇÖt get you any tickets,ÔÇØ it read. ÔÇ£Sorry.ÔÇØ
The younger Boateng smiled. First, because he knows Kevin-Prince Boateng has a corporate box at SchalkeÔÇÖs arena to cater for the entourage who want to watch him in matches like SaturdayÔÇÖs and next monthÔÇÖs Champions League visit by Chelsea. Second, because in texting his sibling, Boateng senior had technically infringed the brothersÔÇÖ code saying they should stay incommunicado ahead of imminent confrontations on the field. ÔÇ£See,ÔÇØ Jerome laughed to reporters, ÔÇ£heÔÇÖs broken the rule on ÔÇÿno contactÔÇÖ.ÔÇØ
Once Kevin-Prince Boateng, plain ÔÇÿPrinceÔÇÖ to most, was better known for breaking rules than any achievements as a footballer. For that, he is easily caricatured as his brotherÔÇÖs polar opposite. Prince, 26, has gangster tattoos, like the slogan ÔÇ£Pain vs LoveÔÇØ on his torso; Jerome wears scholarly glasses. A year separates them in age, but they grew up in different households ÔÇô sons of the same father, a Ghanaian, but of different mothers, both German ÔÇô and while Prince was once detained by police after a row of cars had been vandalised in the street, the teenaged Jerome was routinely praised for his professional application.
By the time the Boateng brothers were in their 20s, they had become an almost living parable of the alternative routes possible to young men emerging from challenging Berlin backgrounds. The summer Prince was relegated with Portsmouth, Jerome was being courted by Manchester City, the former employers he faces with Bayern in Europe at the start of October.
Before SaturdayÔÇÖs match, a 4-0 win for Bayern, the Boatengs had not met in a competitive fixture for more than three years. The fraternal bonhomie they shared this weekend makes a stark contrast to the previous. That was at the World Cup in South Africa, in circumstances that seemed to crystallise their differences. Jerome was playing for Germany, Prince for Ghana, the country he had chosen to commit to only a few months earlier after representing Germany at every age-group level since the under-15s.
Jerome and Prince did not speak in the lead-up to that game ÔÇô a group match, won 1-0 by JeromeÔÇÖs team ÔÇô and not because of the code of silence designed to avoid emotional bonds distracting from professional obligations. Back then, the bond had frayed so far, as Prince confirms, ÔÇ£we were just not talkingÔÇØ. He had taken umbrage when his kid sibling criticised him for a tackle Prince made on the then Germany captain Michael Ballack in the 2010 FA Cup final between PrinceÔÇÖs Portsmouth and BallackÔÇÖs Chelsea. Ballack sustained ankle damage that ruled him out of the World Cup. Prince became GermanyÔÇÖs Public Enemy NoÔÇë1, according to the newspaper, Bild-Zeitung. Even his brother seemed to be ganging up.
The Kevin-Prince Boateng who Schalke signed for over ┬ú12ÔÇëmillion from ACÔÇëÔÇë Milan in late August is perceived in a distinct light. Schalke have put him at the heart of their game-plan, playing off a central striker, and though his opportunities against Bayern were restricted, he twice threatened a goal. He has scored twice in four Schalke games so far. Saturday was the first time he had not finished on the winning side.
Esteem for Prince extends beyond the Ruhr and acknowledges his influence at Milan, where he collected a SerieÔÇëÔÇëA title 12 months after relegation with Portsmouth. His form in Italy has prompted mea culpas from those who gave up on him in Germany. Matthias Sammer, BayernÔÇÖs sporting director who six years ago as the German FAÔÇÖs head of strategy deemed Prince ÔÇÿunmanageableÔÇÖ, spoke of a transformation: ÔÇ£He has developed fantastically, but still kept his identity.ÔÇØ A part of that identity is now PrinceÔÇÖs association with the battle against racism. He led his Milan colleagues off the field to protest against sustained racist abuse in a friendly match in northern Italy in January.
He sits on FifaÔÇÖs anti-racism taskforce. As a successful German of mixed-race the more discreet Jerome has long had role-model responsibilities assigned to him. Bayern colleague, Philipp Lahm, calls him ÔÇ£a symbol of German integrationÔÇØ.
His reputation as a player is growing. The back-up defender of Manchester CityÔÇÖs 2010-11 season is a fixture at centre-half for Bayern and for his country and when City host the Bundesliga and Champions League holders they will note that, under Pep Guardiola, the new Bayern coach, Boateng is encouraged to initiate build-up play, to express himself as a passer.
City will also appreciate that Bayern, now joint top of the Bundesliga, are gaining an ominous swagger. ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖre growing with every match, getting better and better,ÔÇØ said Jerome after goals from Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Mandzukic, Franck Ribery and Claudio Pizarro routed Schalke. ÔÇ£It was really tough for us,ÔÇØ said his older brother, after an evening of more pain than love.