“Previously you had players called Thomas or Phillip, now there are Mesut, Sami and Jerome”
Michael Horeni is the author of Die Brüder Boateng, a book in which he examines the careers of three Ghanaian-German brothers George, Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng. This last is perhaps the most familiar to fans of English football after having played at Spurs and Portsmouth before moving to AC Milan. In January 2013 Kevin-Prince Boateng was in the spotlight for his decision to walk off the pitch during a friendly game for Milan after he and other Milan players were racially abused by fans of Aurora Pro Patria, their opponents that day.
Although they are all three footballers (George, incidentally, should not be confused with the fomer Middlesbrough midfielder) it is the relationship between Kevin-Prince and Jerome Boateng that provides the most interesting case study. The two became the first sibling pair to play for opposite nations at the World Cup in South Africa 2010, when Germany beat Ghana 1-0. Kevin-Prince, having chosen to represent Ghana at international level, had already come under fire from the German press before the game for other reasons, having put Michael Ballack out of the World Cup with a tackle in the 2010 FA Cup final whilst playing against Chelsea for Portsmouth.
In your book you talk about the Boateng brothers. Jerome is an international with Germany, whilst Kevin-Prince has declared for Ghana. How do you reconcile this choice with the fact that, before 2010, he hadn’t even been to Ghana, and grew up in Germany?
Kevin-Prince Boateng played 45 times for various different German youth squads, including the U21 team. He was almost taken to the U21 Euros in 2009, but was injured. He played in the same team as Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Jerome Boateng. He then was left out of the team a few games before the tournament, partly because of ill discipline at Dortmund, including several sendings off. And then, he ended up with Ghana.
It was really more to do with his behaviour than his injury that he was left out…
Indeed, and this wasn’t a result of not feeling ‘intergrated’. Rather, he could have played with the German national team, but his behaviour left him on the fringes of the group. It had nothing to do with a lack of identification with Germany, or being German.
You also say, in your book, that you would like to see a Germany national team that is more “internationalised”. Would you say that this hasn’t previously been possible?
For years the policy seemingly had been to deliberately ignore what talent there was available in the country. It was only at the beginning of the 2000’s that we really began to examine our youth setup, and we realised that there was a huge pool of talent waiting there. In 2000 then, taking inspiration from the French model, more effort began to be made with kids who came here through immigration. It took a while but it has now finally started to bear fruit- in the U21 side who won the European Championship in 2009, there were quite a few of these players, and who then went on to play in the senior side. It’s a success.
Although for every Gerard Asamoah or Paulo Rink there’s a Yildray Basturk who if he had received more attention….
For Turkish immigrants it’s quite different though; they still tend to look to the country of their parents. In fact, what was required was for them to be convinced that they were really wanted.
We know that the Turkish are particularly proud of their country, the problem, perhaps, is that there are quite a few young Turkish who orient themselves towards the country of their parents’ birth without their having ever actually been there.
It’s not just the case in sport but in society at large. Something that we hadn’t really fully appreciated until the early 2000’s.
You talk about an ‘internationalisation’ of the German national team. The point, however, still remains that the team must be made up of the best possible players, regardless of background.
The nature of this very team is in the process of evolving. Previously you had players called Thomas or Phillip, now there are Mesut, Sami and Jerome. These players bring something different; a different temperament, have a different history. It’s a great thing, but it also poses new problems, such as the singing of the national anthem. You know all this too well in France. Then when a player doesn’t meet certain expectations surrounding the public’s perception of national identity, his foreignness is brought to the fore.
With the case of Mesut Ozil for example, you often notice, when he’s good he’s German and when he’s bad you’re constantly reminded that he’s of Turkish origin.
Exactly. And it’s worse for the players with darker skin. They’ve had to deal with racial insults since they were very young. It’s something that is still clinging on, unfortunately.
Actually, what’s happening in Germany right now must really incense someone like Thilo Sarrazin (SPD member, and author of Germany is Abolishing itself, in which he condemns immigration from Muslim countries)
Yes, and furthermore, he cites only individual cases. Of course, the model is never going to work for everyone, but more importantly, the principle is that this potential will now be recognised.
In Germany, there is still something deeper that hasn’t yet changed. In France for example, you might be of mixed ethnicity or nationality, but if you’re born in France, you’re French. We may have to wait a little longer before Germany gets there.
Of course. It’s especially true of those of Turkish origin, who are most often described in the media as being German-Turks, which is rather annoying.
A little football then, to finish. What do you think of Germany?
Germany will be the champions of Europe!
We know them too well the Germans, no matter what there form has been like, they’re always a great tournament team.
Yes and what’s more, they’ve grown up. I don’t think they’ll play as pretty as they did in the World Cup 2010. I think they’ll play a little more efficiently this year. The team is growing all the time, they’ve matured and have now gone beyond the stage where they were once surprised by their own success. They know what they’re capable of.
This Interview was conducted by Ali Farhat for So Foot.com. A link to the original piece can be found here: