2014 FIFA World Cup, 32 players to watch, Featured, June 2014

32 Players to Watch in Brazil: #17 Kevin Prince-Boateng

Kevin "The Problem" Prince-Boateng.

Kevin “The Problem” Prince-Boateng.

Jon Levy

It’s been a while since we did a “Haters Gonna Hate” piece at TYAC. Years even. (We used to call these “Jackleg” pieces). But when you take four years off your national team, and then conveniently decide you love Ghana right before the World Cup, well- you’re asking for it. Landon couldn’t even get four months for his mental health. So there’s that. 

Before you read on, check out how these pieces work by reading Neil W. Blackmon’s piece on Luka Modric here.

Country: Ghana

Position: Midfielder

Club Team: Schalke 04

American-Based Professional Sport “Soulmate”: Adrien “The Problem” Broner, Boxer

Usually our subject’s non-soccer equivalent doesn’t get a mention in the first line of our “Player to Watch” posts, but Adrien Broner nailed K.P. Boateng right on the chin with his nickname: The Problem. Broner’s nickname is more than just a jumping off point to write about Kevin-Prince Boateng; it’s the entirety of his soccer existence. He’s a problem for his clubs, his country, the media, himself, and for the second World Cup running he might just be a problem for the United States of America.

Boateng might not even start the match against the US next week, but he’s as skilled a player as Ghana has, and with K.P.’s versatility you never know where his threat is coming from. As a measure of just how talented Boateng is, please read this ridiculous sentence from the opening section of his Wikipedia page:

“Boateng is known for his intense dynamism; physical strength, extreme aggressionman-to-man marking, tempestuous sliding tacklesendurance, immense work rate, exceptional high jumpingacrobatics, both footednessfootspeed, and ball-juggling tricks.”

Americans are well-acquainted with what a difference maker Boateng can be for the Black Stars.

Americans are well-acquainted with what a difference maker Boateng can be for the Black Stars.

Now that’s obviously written by a big Kevin-Prince fan, but as you internet savvy TYAC readers probably know, that type of stuff gets culled from Wikipedia fast-Fast-FAST if it’s a load crap. In this case we’re dealing with a ridiculous sentence, packed with way too many buzzwords, but it’s not exactly false. Over the top? Yup. Wrong? Nope.

So why does a box-to-box defensive destruction machine, with a knack for playing his best in big matches, who also happens to be one of the best dribblers in Europe, not start every match for Ghana? And why has he played for a laundry list for clubs? Shouldn’t he be a mainstay on a Champions League club without transferring away every couple years?

The answer of course, is that he’s Kevin-Prince Boateng. He’s a firebrand both on and off the field, and that doesn’t always play well within the confines obey-and-assimilate squad culture many managers try to create. Thank Zlatan Ibrahimović during his one tumultuous season amongst the “smurfs” as he called them at Barcelona. That’s K.P. Boateng on most teams, and seemingly, in most situations throughout life. Boateng does have a past supposedly checkered with gang-related violence, but that hardly explains everything about his persona. A brief look at his time with the Ghana national team reveals a lot about what I’m referencing.

First Boateng tears up German football legend Michael Ballack’s knee in the 2010 FA Cup Final while playing for Portsmouth. And is not even remotely apologetic. 

Next Boateng, a Berlin native and member of the German national team at every youth level, seemingly overreacts to media criticism of his tackle on Ballack and an exclusion from the Germany 2010 World Cup squad, and switches his nationality to Ghanaian.

Boateng goes on to have a great World Cup that earns him the consideration of big European clubs, but decides to retire from international play at 24 years old just a year and a half later. I guess he had no interest in the African Cup of Nations, or any of the boring World Cup qualification process.

What a surprise, he’s unretired and available for selection after Ghana crush Egypt in the first leg of the critical playoff with Egypt that can catapult Ghana into the World Cup. K.P. comes on and scores a meaningless goal at the end of the second leg of the playoff upon his return to the national team. Y’know, just to remind everybody that he can do stuff like that.

And here we are, ready for a World Cup in which Boateng will likely be a game-changer once again, whether he earned his spot through the rigors of qualification or not.


And here’s where Boateng gets even more complicated. Because for all his petulance and flamboyance, K.P. Boateng nobly made one of biggest stands against racism that we’ve seen in world soccer, a stand far greater than any FIFA promotional campaign or clever Dani Alves moment spawning a brief social media trend.  In the face of continued racist chants, Boateng looked his tormentors in the bleachers in their eyes, and promptly walked off the field during a midseason friendly. His then teammates with AC Milan followed suit. Maybe it took someone as self-righteous as Boateng to finally abandon a match like that, but in this case the “why him?” question didn’t matter.

The Problem.

The Problem.

As for Boateng’s sports “soulmate” Adrien Broner, they are so similar, but defined by how their sports react to these shared traits. In many ways Broner’s arsenal of boxing skills are the equivalent to what Boateng uses in his do-everything role on the field. Broner boasts highlight reel punching skills, with hand-speed, accuracy, and big power for his size. Meanwhile, his shoulder-roll defense continually draws comparisons to Floyd Mayweather Jr., one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time.

And of course, like K.P.B., Adrien Broner is as confident and flamboyant as they come. Of course he’s a good deal more charismatic, but “The Can Man” (‘because anybody can get it…’ insert nationalities that end in ‘can’) recently went too far in racially disparaging a Mexican-American fighter Carlos Molina in a post fight interview. So why is Broner’s over-the-top and sometimes over-the-line personality not a problem for him when Boateng’s antics often have him branded a problem child? Well that’s as simple as the difference between the sweet science and beautiful game. Big personalities sell in boxing. Even if they make you hate the guy. Especially if they make viewers hate the guy. Whether you love him or hate him, Adrien Broner is appointment television. In the literally communist world of team sports, coaches and managers look for good players that can promote balance in the locker room, but in K.P.’s case, they’re forced to take a chance on a very good player who might not live up the keep-your-mouth-shut “team player” edict.



 Tales of the Uninvited:

Argentina forward Carlos Tevéz is enjoying his summer break and taking his family on a Florida vacation, hitting Miami Beach and Disney World. Seriously, this one’s real, he’s really doing that. His plan for Epcot Center? Carlos will “drink around the world” at Epcot’s World Showcase, draining three cervezas at each “country,” before puking over the side of the not-quite-rollicking boat ride in Disney’s approximation of Norway. Tevez will of course be hauled off to Disney jail where his cell will be guarded by, you guessed it, Zlatan Ibrahimović. More on Zlatan next time!

Jon Levy is Co-Founder of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at jon.f.levy@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.

Jon Levy