bundesliga

Jerome Boateng: A world-beating defender, made in the Bundesliga

A winner of nine Bundesliga titles, a 2012/13 treble and 2020 sextuple with Bayern Munich, as well as the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Germany, Jerome Boateng won't be forgotten in a hurry.

bundesliga.com pays homage to one of the finest - and most decorated - central defenders of his generation, following his free transfer to French outfit Lyon...

Like half-brother Kevin-Prince, Boateng is a product of the Hertha Berlin youth system. Despite winning the bronze Fritz-Walter-Medal as the best U19 player in Germany in 2007, he made just 11 Bundesliga appearances for his hometown club, before shipping up to Hamburg.

Regular first-team football flowed over his three seasons with the Port City club, prompting ambitious English Premier League outfit Manchester City to make their move. Sixteen top-flight appearances wasn't a bad return for a 22-year-old playing abroad for the first time in his senior club career, but his deployment at full-back was hardly conducive to the development of a dyed-in-the-wool central defender.

Boateng has always played the game in the same way as he did on the gritty streets of Berlin as a child. - imago

Boateng knew it, and so did Bayern, who made the Germany international central to their long-term plans.

"It was important to me that Bayern had me marked in for a specific position," Boateng said in summer 2011, after putting pen to paper on a four-year deal with Germany's record champions.

"I believe it will end up with me playing at centre-back for the national team more often. Above all, I've come here to make the defence more solid."

Watch: Jerome Boateng matured into one of the world's best defenders at Bayern

Boateng delivered on his word. Bayern had finished third in the Bundesliga in 2010/11, conceding 18 goals more than champions Borussia Dortmund. Although they fell seven points short in Boateng's debut season - coming up second best to BVB - the Bavarians ended 2011/12 with the meanest defence in the division. The foundation for the most successful era in Bayern's bejeweled history was laid.

Bayern claimed 24 titles on Boateng's watch, shipping less than 30 single-season Bundesliga goals on seven occasions, whilst failing to break the 80-goal mark just twice. Their system evolved considerably in that time, but so did Boateng and, as he hit his late 20s, the Berlin visionary was considered the gold standard for modern-day centre-backs.

“I was incredibly touched and proud to have done that as a defender," Boateng said of his lasting legacy in an interview with the Bayern website. "But that doesn’t happen without playing in such a great team. I always try to soak everything up - not necessarily to copy but to ask himself 'why he's so good at that?'"

Continual self-reflection served Boateng well. He took the prerequisite qualities of a central defender and married them with the laser-guided distribution of a deep-lying midfielder, regularly ranking among Bayern's top five players for challenges won, touches and pass completion.

"It's incredible to be able to open up the game like that as a centre-back," club and countryman Thomas Müller once beamed, the gleeful recipient of more than a few Boateng punts down the years. "He's like a quarter-back, and has developed into a world-class player."

Boateng received individual recognition in 2016, two years after lifting the FIFA World Cup with Germany, when he was named his country's Footballer of the Year. The Bayern No.17 was the first out-and-out defender to claim the prize since Jürgen Kohler in 1997.

Boateng earned seven of his 76 senior Germany caps at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. - imago

There were set-backs, including injuries and inevitable dips in form. Restricted to just 20 Bundesliga appearances under Niko Kovac in 2018/19, Boateng's time at Bayern appeared to have run its course. Then came the renaissance.

Boateng posted 38 appearances in all competitions in 2019/20 - his highest count since 2014/15 - as Bayern swept all before them. Of all centre-backs at Hansi Flick's disposal, only David Alaba made more starts. The same was true of his Bayern swansong, in 2020/21.

"He faced an unquestionably difficult situation and responded with incredible improvement," said the former Bayern coach of Boateng. "He's worked very hard to get himself back up to this level. He was also one of the anchors who assured we won the triple. I'm extremely grateful to him for that."

Flick is not the only member of Bayern's 2020 sextuple-winning cast who owes Boateng a debt of gratitude.

"In the time we’ve spent playing together at centre-back, I was able to learn a lot from you," commented Alaba, another Bayern stalwart who bowed out on a high at the end of 2020/21.

Canadian left-back Alphonso Davies likewise doffed his hat to Bayern's long-serving muse: "Thanks for everything you’ve taught me. You’re a real leader, you took me under your wing and guided me."

Boateng (c.), sandwiched by Javi Martinez and David Alaba, defined a decade at Bayern. - DFL

Boateng once cited Atletico Madrid's Diego Godin, Barcelona's Gerard Pique and Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos as the defenders he most admires in the modern game. The next generation of defensive greats will almost certainly look to Peak Boa for inspiration.