Munich - “Kevin-Prince Boateng wanted to prove that he could achieve something in Germany,” were the words of FC Schalke 04 sporting director Horst Heldt after the attacking midfielder had been signed from AC Milan just before the end of the summer transfer window.
The Berlin-born Ghanaian midfielder was returning in the prime of his career to the Bundesliga, where in his previous spells he had only shown flashes of his early talent. Stints with boyhood club Hertha Berlin (2004-07) and Borussia Dortmund (2009) had yielded 52 appearances in Germany’s top flight, but a mere three goals.
It was a much more mature Boateng who made his Schalke debut in a 2-0 win against Bayer 04 Leverkusen just 24 hours after signing, and the 26-year-old picked up on his new role immediately. “The boys see me as a leader,” Boateng said after his first appearance for the Royal Blues. It is a role which he has taken to with the ease of a man who spent the previous three years strutting around Italy's fashion capital Milan.
The early season saw Schalke struggle for rhythm and confidence, but the arrival of coach Jens Keller's "dream player" has reversed the Gelsenkirchen club's fortunes. A disappointing 4-0 home loss to FC Bayern München aside, Schalke have not lost in the Bundesliga since Boateng signed on, but perhaps the most important victories have come in the UEFA Champions League, where the half-brother of FC Bayern München defender Jerome Boateng scored in a 3-0 home success against FC Steaua Bucuresti, and led the line on his own imposingly in a vital, Julian Draxler-inspired 1-0 win at Basel.
A key aspect of Schalke’s upswing in form since the Ghanaian’s arrival has been his dovetailing with Draxler and Jefferson Farfan. "We harmonise well in midfield," says Boateng, who has already hit three goals in five domestic games.
There's little doubt these are more than just early signs that Boateng has come to prove something in what he, not uniquely, brands “the best league in the world”.