Jerome 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 - but perhaps they should be the ones looking up to him.
As comfortable winning the ball as he is carrying and distributing it, the Bayern Munich and Germany centre-back is a paragon in his position. Half sentry, half quarter-back; he is a true one-of-a-kind. The thinking man's defender - conceivably the best in the world today.
Watch: Jerome Boateng - one of the best around
It's been quite the transformation. When Boateng joined Bayern in summer 2011, he had spent the foregoing campaign filling in as a full-back for English Premier League outfit Manchester City. 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 on the flanks was hardly conducive to the development of a dyed-in-the-wool central defender.
"It was important to me that Bayern had me marked in for a specific position," Berlin-born Boateng said at the time, 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."
Boateng has delivered on his word. Bayern had finished third in the Bundesliga in 2010/11, conceding 18 goals more than champions Borussia Dortmund. Although they then fell seven points short in Boateng's debut campaign - 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 almost complete.
Boateng has since helped Bayern claim, among others, six successive Bundesliga titles; each time boasting the stingiest backline and, in all but one instance, the most prolific attack. Only once on Boateng's watch have the red machine shipped more than 25 single-season Bundesliga goals; only twice have they failed to break the 80-goal mark at the other end. Bayern's capital punisher does not do things by halves.
Defensively, Boateng is the full package. He is tall (6'3"), strong and quick - qualities which facilitate swift recoveries if caught out – and has proved himself to be an effective communicator in various partnerships at the highest level for club and country. There are not many players who have won 14 major trophies at club level and got their hands on the FIFA World Cup before the age of 30.
It helps that he is exceedingly confident in his positioning, knowing exactly when to occupy the space either side of the opposition forward or move up and attempt to win possession. Just last season - in spite of various injury setbacks - the Hertha Berlin academy product won a team-high 69 per cent of his attempted challenges in 19 Bundesliga matches; better than Godin (43 per cent), Pique (53 per cent) and Ramos (57 per cent). The list goes on.
Bayern's high defensive line also means the central defenders have the added responsibility of covering the wide spaces when the full-backs push up, as well as carrying the ball away from goal and into opposition territory and hitting long passes into the final third.
Typically, possession is recycled among the back four and deep-lying midfielders until there is sufficient time for the centre-halves to look up and pick out a teammate. Happily, cultured build-up play and laser-guided balls into the path of Bayern's leading men are all part of the service where Boateng is concerned.
"It's incredible to be able to open up the game like that as a centre-back," Thomas Müller once beamed, the gleeful recipient of a Boateng special on more than one occasion down the years. "He's like a quarter-back, and has developed into a world-class player."
Back in the league with a win 🔥 pic.twitter.com/0xEGbzjOb7— Jerome Boateng (@JB17Official) August 24, 2018
The numbers add weight to Müller's glowing appraisal. On average, Boateng enjoys 83 touches per Bundesliga game, whilst eating up six miles of ground. Of his total attempted passes in 2017/18, he hit the mark with 87 per cent – a two per cent improvement on his career median in a Bayern shirt. Retired midfield instrumentalist Xabi Alonso would be proud.
Bayern's system has evolved considerably in recent times, but so too has Boateng – so much so that he now sets the gold standard for tackle merchants and quarter-back centre-backs worldwide. Nobody does it better.