Jerome Boateng is enjoying a second wind at Bayern Munich, and the record champions' defence is all the better for it.
The 31-year-old defender was being linked with a move away from Munich in the summer, but he knuckled down with extra individual training sessions, intent on proving a point. That message has now got across with the Bavarians' defence looking stronger than ever with Boateng back at its core.
"It's important that he's playing well because we're conceding fewer goals at the back now than we were in the first 10 to 15 games," said Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Boateng's future at Bayern looked quite bleak in the summer, when Lucas Hernandez arrived from Atletico Madrid to partner Niklas Süle at the heart of the defence. Bayern's president at the time, Uli Hoeneß said at the end of last season that "it would be better for him to get some fresh air elsewhere," adding that he "needs to find a new challenge – that would be the best thing for him."
Boateng's Bayern days appeared numbered, but a boy brought up in the Berlin suburb of Wedding does not know the meaning of the term 'throwing in the towel' and he doubled his efforts to prove to Hoeneß that the only fresh air he wanted to breathe was blowing down from the Alps into Munich.
"What Uli said was not wrong, it was just said at a different time to now," acknowledged Rummenigge. "Jerome's been playing consistently well for quite some time now, and I think he's rediscovered his stability, particularly under Hansi Flick."
Boateng has been left on the bench just twice since Flick took charge, and in the six games he has played, Bayern have conceded just four goals. In the UEFA Champions League, he held a mightily strong fort in the 6-0 win at Red Star Belgrade and 3-1 home win over Tottenham Hotspur which completed a 100 per cent record for the Bavarians in Group B.
With Hernandez and Süle still sidelined, albeit with the former now back in training, Flick has known he can count on Boateng to support his side's rise back to the top of the Bundesliga, thanks to a six-game winning streak.
Those extra shifts training and in the gym have paid off for the Berlin boy who has proved he can still pack a punch at the very top.