Berlin (AFP) – Kevin Prince-Boateng has played for 14 different European clubs but is now back at his hometown side, Hertha Berlin, and hoping to help them climb the Bundesliga table, starting with Saturday’s derby at rivals Union Berlin.
The 34-year-old is in the twilight of a career which has seen him play across Europe, including for AC Milan and Tottenham, as well as a brief loan spell at Barcelona.
Boateng rejoined Hertha on a free transfer in June from second-tier Italian club Monza, but has so far made just four league starts and is yet to play a full 90 minutes.
The former Ghana international is hoping to help Hertha start to tilt the balance of power in Berlin back in their favour after a difficult few seasons since Union were promoted to the top flight.
“We need to be ready for that battle, to go into every conflict and win that little one percent, which will change the game,” he told international media Wednesday.
German entrepreneur Lars Windhorst has pumped millions of euros into Hertha, but still without much reward.
“We’ve so much work to do, we have to show we are the biggest club in Berlin, which we are all dreaming of,” said Boateng.
But Union’s Alten Foersterei stadium is a notoriously hard place for away teams to go. It took mighty Bayern Munich to finally end Union’s 21-match unbeaten league run at home last month.
– ‘Rollercoaster’ –
Union have consistently punched above their weight since promotion in 2019, finishing 11th in their first Bundesliga campaign before a seventh-placed effort last term saw them qualify for Europe for only the second time.
They currently sit eighth in the table, four points clear of 13th-placed Hertha, who only narrowly avoided relegation last season.
Hertha have produced wildly erratic results this season, thrashed 5-0 by Bayern and 6-0 by RB Leipzig, yet earning wins over Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Boateng says Hertha, for whom he made his Bundesliga debut in 2005, need to tighten up at the back.
“(This season) has been a rollercoaster — sometimes we perform as an unbelievable team, so hard to beat,” he said. “Other weeks we have big holes in defence and aren’t aggressive.
“We need to stabilise that mentality to know every weekend is war. If we work on that, then it will be a positive season for us because we will be a very hard team to beat.”
Boateng — who prefers to be addressed as ‘Prince’ — says he has become a father figure at Hertha.
“I’m the boss — in a good way. I listen, I talk, I help, I’m the joker, I’m the singer, I do everything, but when I tell you to something, you do as I say,” he smiled.
“My experience helps a lot. There are so many things I have seen at other clubs and in other countries, I am always happy when I see someone reach a level they didn’t think they could reach.”
– Nurturing influence –
He cites the example of Manuel Locatelli, a Euro 2020 winner with Italy whom Boateng “gave a little bit of guidance” when they played together at Serie A club Sassuolo.
“Now he is at Juventus and is one the best midfielders, because he was intelligent enough to listen, to make sacrifices every morning and work hard.”
In Berlin, Boateng has taken Hertha youngsters Marco Richter and Maximilian Mittelstaedt under his wing.
“Now they start to believe in themselves, I like that, even if I give them a little dig in the ribs to say ‘Wake up, it’s 9am, let’s practise’.
“Just seeing these guys grow, I love that — that’s football.”
Hertha have six games left this year and Boateng says “it’s important” to win the derby ahead of a crucial run of games.
“We can have a peaceful Christmas (with some good results) and know you aren’t coming back to crisis or criticism.”