It’s rare to see a player make the biggest move of their career at 31. But then nothing about Kevin-Prince Boateng has ever followed convention.
The Ghanaian staked his claim for the most surprising transfer of the winter window on Monday when it was announced he had joined LaLiga leaders FC Barcelona on loan for the remainder of the season with the Catalans holding a $9million option on the versatile attacker.
Born in West Berlin to a Ghanaian mother and German father, Boateng has led a nomadic and varied life in football, turning out for ten clubs in four of Europe’s biggest leagues – the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and LaLiga.
Yet despite representing his country at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and winning honours in Italy and Germany, his signing caught almost all by surprise.
So why have Barça made the 31-year-old their second signing of the winter transfer window?
He can play in a number of positions
As Barça point out in their own statement they are getting a versatile player. The 15-cap Ghanaian international has performed a number of roles to great success. It was during his first spell in Spain, working under Quique Setién at Las Palmas, that he bagged ten goals in 28 LaLiga starts playing as an out-and-out No.9.
And it was one of those goals (below) which encapsulated his natural flair, ability and eye for the extraordinary all in one stunning movement against Villarreal in 2016.
But as well as being a natural goalscorer, Boateng can create from deeper positions on the field. Earlier in his career he was a more natural No.10 who would play between the lines and get into the penalty area. In recent times he has played slightly deeper, most notably at AC Milan, where he won the Scudetto and Supercoppa Italiana in 2011.
This term he’s scored five times in 15 appearances for Italian side Sassuolo as a centre-forward or No.10 and given Barça’s wealth of midfield options – where they’re currently so well stocked Philippe Coutinho is struggling to get into the side – it seems unlikely we’ll see Boateng there.
But the option is there for Blaugrana coach Ernesto Valverde.
He brings something different to Barça
When you think of a Barça player’s strengths you would be hard pushed to shake the image of a Xavi, Andrés Iniesta or Sergio Busquets; unfussy players who sacrifice themselves for the team and adhere, almost religiously, to the system and tactical framework.
Boateng is different. Physically he stands out thanks to an array of inventive hairstyles over the years while the tattoos which adorn his body are an unmistakable part of his trademark and tell the story of a life less ordinary – not least the map of Ghana on his arm which acts as visible affirmation of his connection with the country of his mother’s birth.
However, in terms of what he does on the field it is interesting to see how his Player Persona radar, exclusive to Football Whispers, characterises Boateng (below).
The bulk of his natural game revolves around creating chances (1.43 open-play key passes per 90) and taking shots (2.77 per 90). Conversely, he completes just 23.59 passes per 90. But that’s hardly surprising when you consider the Spanish giants manage almost 200 more passes per game (674.75 vs. 488.75) than Sassuolo.
Moreover, it is evident from his heat map for the season so far (below) that he is not the kind of forward who loiters in the penalty area waiting for his team-mates to serve him up chances. He will drop off and get involved in the build-up play though he has managed just a single assist in Serie A this season.
He’ll be good for the locker room
Whenever a player joins a new club the coach or sporting director will go to great lengths to talk about their personal qualities, as well as their attributes on the field.
In Boateng, Barça have signed not only an interesting footballer but an interesting person and leader. In February 2013 he was appointed as the first global ambassador for FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force while in the same year he was also named as an ambassador for the UN for anti-racism.
This came after Boateng led AC Milan from the field in a friendly against lower-league Italian side Pro Patria in 2013 after Milan’s black players experienced racist abuse, a move which was universally lauded by soccer.
On a more light-hearted note, the 31-year-old is a lively locker room personality and cites Michael Jackson as his idol, even performing the star’s trademark ‘Moonwalk’ to celebrate Milan’s title win in front of a packed San Siro.
He has even launched his own music career (above), releasing a rap song called ‘King’ under the alias PRIN$$ last year. The challenge facing Boateng now is to form a symphony with the other, more acclaimed, artists in Barça’s attack.