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FIFA World Cup 2014: Boatengs put brotherly love on hold again

Friday, 20 June 2014 - 5:00pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: Reuters

Kevin-Prince Boateng and half-brother Jerome grew up in the tough Berlin district of Wedding, learning about the subtleties of soccer and the inequalities of life in tiny caged in cement playgrounds the size of an inner city basketball court. The Boateng boys have come a long way from that under privileged, run-down high rise section of Berlin and will once again be applying those life lessons learned on the biggest stage at the World Cup on Saturday. Kevin-Prince and his Ghana team square off against Jerome and Germany in the Group G showdown, a rematch for the brothers of their 2010 battle in South Africa which Germany won 1-0. The Boatengs made World Cup history, the first time two brothers had played against each other in the tournament. Although the Boatengs both live in Germany and regularly play against each other in the Bundesliga, Kevin-Prince switched allegiance to his father's homeland of Ghana in 2009 because he felt he was not getting the chance he deserved with Germany. A charismatic and natural leader on and off the pitch, Kevin-Prince has rarely shied away from expressing his opinion. 

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The muscular midfielder recently made headlines for saying Germany does not have any "Typen" ("tough-guy") leaders who step up and take charge when the chips are down, criticism that made waves. "In really tight matches for Germany there was never anyone who stepped up to take charge," said Kevin-Prince, 27, ahead of the Germany match. "It's a fundamental truth." The unspoken subtext of his comment is that he is exactly that kind of "Typ" that Germany sorely needs: a confident, courageous, bold, loud, and opinionated leader that Germany has not had since Michael Ballack retired or especially since Stefan Effenberg's era ended over a decade ago. 

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By contrast, Jerome is a natural born follower and admits he has always looked up to his older brother, who once led his AC Milan team off the field after being racially abused by fans. Jerome, 25, followed Kevin-Prince into the Hertha Berlin youth programme at a young age after his older brother was discovered by a Hertha scout. He later followed Kevin-Prince to England. Kevin-Prince played for Tottenham Hotspur and Jerome played for Manchester City. Jerome later moved to Bayern Munich and has been a stalwart defender for the team that won the 2013 Champions League and back-to-back domestic doubles in 2013 and 2014. "I'm proud of him," Jerome said in a Berlin newspaper interview last year of his brother who now plays for Schalke 04.

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The two communicate regularly but tend to avoid contact during the World Cup. Jerome ardently defends his older brother against the lingering criticism in Germany for Kevin-Prince's foul against Ballack in the Premier League shortly before the 2010 World Cup that knocked the captain out of the tournament. "The public's image of him isn't the best in Germany," said Jerome. "That wasn't his intention but it happened and it seemed to confirm a lot of people's stereotype: 'the ghetto kicker' from the troubled district, the gangster footballer from Wedding. He was made a villain in Germany over that foul." In Wedding, where many immigrants live, their youth trainer Gora Sen told Reuters that Kevin-Prince was already an outspoken leader as a younger player. 

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"Kevin exhibited the characteristics of a leader, not all of them good," said Sen, 43. "I think if you would ask him today he would acknowledge that. He would go too far and sometimes spoil his own chances. But when he was on the soccer pitch even back then he was something special. He always played to win, fighting and giving it all. He was always a top athlete. I always liked him." Sen said Jerome was different. "He was a tall, sensitive boy who needed a lot of attention, especially when his older brother was playing," said Sen. "Jerome always looked up to his brother and it didn't come as easily to him." 


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