Throw-in: Welcome back, Boa!
It feels like I already said Goodbye to Jérôme Boateng a thousand times. So often, he was on the verge of leaving. Even Uli Hoeness said that it would be best for Boateng to move to another club, and I remember the many times when Boateng looked lost, lonely and inefficient on the pitch.
But now, towards the end of the season, Boateng has fought his way back to starting line-up – also due to the injuries of his teammates. Only a few months ago, it looked as if his time with FC Bayern was coming to a certain end. At this point, it’s still unclear whether Boateng will really leave the club at the end of the season, or fulfil his contract, which runs until 2021. One thing, however, is undeniable: coach Hansi Flick values and appreciates Boateng, is (partly) responsible for the central defender’s renaissance and has probably indirectly played his part to repair the relationship between player and club.
Around one year ago, Uli Hoeness advised Boateng to come up with an exit strategy and referred to him as “Fremdkörper”, which is perhaps best being translated as “out of place.” Hoeness made this statement live on TV while the team was celebrating its 2019 championship at the Marienplatz in Munich. There are certainly better and more diplomatic ways to show a current player the door, but even the most loyal Boateng fans had to admit that the relationship was broken beyond repair. It didn’t look like that story would have a happy ending.
Boateng’s relationship with the fans also suffered. He didn’t join his teammates anymore when they went to the stands after a match to thank their supporters. Instead, he quickly disappeared in the dressing room. When his performances on the pitch were lacklustre, Boateng was often derided and mocked for his interest in fashion, for designing his own line of eyeglasses and for publishing his own lifestyle magazine BOA. He only cares about clothing and bling-bling, no wonder his performances on the pitch are rapidly going downhill. (Seriously though, if he enjoys things outside of football, just leave him be!)
At the beginning of this season, Boateng was practically gone. According to media reports, there was an agreement between FC Bayern and Juventus Turin for a loan, which seemed like a done deal, especially when Boateng was a no-show for the official team photo. But the deal fell through at the last second, and he was stuck yet again.
He publicly apologised to the fans for his behaviour and earned a lot of appreciation for his honesty. But even though the fans were ready to forgive him, things still didn’t go well on the pitch. With Niko Kovač still at the helm, Boateng was quickly demoted to substitute player. Only when Niklas Süle and Lucas Hernandez both suffered from long-term injuries, Boateng moved back to the starting line-up – but even then, he often looked like a mere shadow of his former self.
Boateng seemed insecure, made positional errors, and his lack of pace often landed him in situations where his last resort was a foul – like in the game against Eintracht Frankfurt in November. Boateng was sent off, and Bayern lost 1:5. It was Kovač’s last game as head coach.
With Hansi Flick taking over the first team, Boateng suddenly had a coach who knows, respects and believes in him; someone who likes to communicate with his players and always has a sympathetic ear for them. Step by step and with enormous willpower, Boateng returned to his earlier form. After the compulsory break due to COVID-19 he came back stronger – thus completing the Boateng renaissance. He harmonizes perfectly with David Alaba, his long-term teammate and new partner in central defence. The whole team has improved its defensive work, which is beneficial to Boateng as he isn’t forced into that many sprinting duels anymore.
And how does Boateng fare? He defends and tackles like the boss he once was. He takes care of the build-up again. He enchants us with fine passes and long balls. He laughs, he enjoys himself and happily celebrated winning the Bundesliga title and DFB Cup.
That it was Boateng who made the assist for the decisive goal against Bremen, leading to Bayern’s eighth consecutive Bundesliga title – almost too good to be true! That he denied a Leverkusen goal in the DFB cup final with a monster tackle in front of Joachim Löw who had kicked him, Thomas Müller and Mats Hummels off the German national team in March 2019 – how deliciously gratifying!
In his current form, Boateng is essential for the upcoming Champions League matches. What happens afterwards will allegedly be negotiated in August. The future obviously belongs to the younger players: both Süle and Hernandez have recovered and will be put back into action sooner or later. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a player like Boateng until then and even beyond?
There are other reasons why Boateng is an important part of this team – especially in times of Black Lives Matter and recurring discussions on racism in football and our society. Boateng never shied away from using his voice and standing up for what he believes in, not least because of his own background and experience. This was not always a given – just remember the unfortunate statements some of his teammates made after the World Cup 2018.
His social commitment in combination with his excellent, maybe even world class skills on the pitch are only two of many reasons why I always had a soft spot for Boateng. Should he decide to leave the club after all, I’d be surely devastated – it always hurts when you have to say Goodbye to your favorite players. Even so, it would still be the happy ending that nobody believed in anymore only one year ago.
Boateng wouldn’t leave FC Bayern as second-choice substitute player, but as a worthy centre-back with two, hopefully three, more titles to add to his list of accomplishments. It would no longer be an undignified departure, but the farewell a player who has been 9 years with the club deserves: ending on a high note. Nevertheless, what I’d really like to tell him is this: Come on Boa, let’s make it a whole decade!