Footballing history is littered with examples of successful brothers – from the Charltons to the Nevilles, Socrates and Rai, Yaya and Kolo, the De Boers, and the Laudrups. But perhaps no fraternal fable is as fascinating as that of the Boatengs – Kevin-Prince and Jerome – whose careers have taken very different but curiously interconnected paths.
The two half-brothers could face off back where it all began for them, in Berlin, when Kevin-Prince’s Eintracht Frankfurt take on Jerome’s Bayern Munich in the DFB Cup final on 19 May.
There will be a warm-up of sorts in the Bundesliga on Matchday 32 – as the reigning six-time champions entertain the Eagles at the Allianz Arena – though Kevin-Prince is likely to miss the trip to Bavaria after going off injured in last week’s Cup semi-final win over Schalke while Jerome's problem sustained against Real Madrid may sadly rule him out of both reunions with his sibling.
“It doesn’t matter, because I’m going to Berlin,” said Kevin-Prince after Frankfurt edged the Royal Blues to reach their second straight DFB Cup showpiece. “This is exactly what I wanted. I dreamed about playing in the final against my brother in our hometown.”
While one of the major subplots of the upcoming final is that Frankfurt coach Niko Kovac will be taking on his future employers, the latest duel between Kevin-Prince and Jerome – after facing off with Ghana and Germany at the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and 2014 – is no less intriguing, especially given their attachment to the capital. The Olympiastadion, where both players began their careers with Hertha Berlin, is only a few kilometres from where they were born and grew up.
The Boatengs’ father, Prince, moved from Ghana to Berlin in 1981 and had two sons by his first wife Christine: George and Kevin-Prince. George was a gifted footballer – perhaps the most naturally talented of the three brothers – but a troubled upbringing and a short temper landed him in jail at a time when he might have been embarking on a career with Hertha.
“I got into a lot of trouble,” George admitted to Der Spiegel in 2010. “Fights, probation. I had a short fuse, and I was a bad role model for Kevin. He can thank me for his reputation.”
George and Kevin-Prince grew up with their mother in Wedding, an underprivileged area of Berlin with higher-than-average crime and unemployment rates. Jerome, meanwhile, was born to Prince and second wife Martina when Kevin-Prince was only 18 months old. Though he grew up in the more affluent area of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf – a stone’s throw from the Olympiastadion – he spent plenty of time playing street football with his half-brothers.
“Growing up in a different area of Berlin to my two brothers made me change my game and become a bit harder, because we always played against older boys, on concrete,” Jerome told VICE Sports. “There was no such thing as a foul. You were younger and you weren't as strong but you had to make the best of it.”
Kevin-Prince and Jerome both went on to emerge from the Hertha youth ranks, although the former always seemed to be one step ahead of his younger brother. Winner of the gold Fritz Walter Medal in 2006 – recognising the best U19 player in Germany – Kevin-Prince impressed so much in his first two seasons with the Old Lady that he earned himself a high-profile move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2007.
Jerome was also awarded the Fritz Walter Medal a year after Kevin-Prince, although he had to settle for bronze in the same category. While his older brother was preparing for life in the Premier League, Jerome was snapped up by Hamburg and quietly set about becoming one of the most accomplished centre-backs in the Bundesliga.
“Jerome is like a sponge – he absorbs everything,” George explained. “Everyone calms down when he walks into the room. Kevin is ambitious, but Jerome is a perfectionist. He lives for success.”
GHANA & GERMANY
The brothers’ contrasting temperaments were ultimately what prevented them from playing together at international level. Kevin-Prince – more outspoken and exuberant than the level-headed Jerome – had looked destined to play for Germany until being left out of the squad for the UEFA European U21 Championships in 2009.
Kevin-Prince attended the final training camp ahead of the tournament in Sweden, but one player still had to be cut from the squad. The elder Boateng had already earned himself an unwanted reputation as something of a hothead and a party animal, and after arriving late to several team meetings, he was the one to miss out.
“A lack of discipline and a certain egotism can be discerned in Kevin-Prince,” said Matthias Sammer, the DFB’s sporting director at the time. “When it comes to his athletic and mental constitution, Jerome is the stronger player.”
While his brother was at home, Jerome joined future World Cup-winning teammates Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Höwedes, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil in lifting the European U21 title that summer. Kevin-Prince, though, would never play for Germany again. The following year, he decided to represent the country of his father, Ghana, at the 2010 World Cup.
Watch: Boatengs set for Cup final showdown!
Meanwhile, Jerome’s steady performances with Hamburg had earned him a place in Joachim Löw’s squad for South Africa – and the Boateng brothers became the object of considerable media scrutiny when Germany and Ghana were drawn together in Group D. Tension was running high between the two camps after Kevin-Prince had injured Michael Ballack with a wild challenge in the FA Cup final, preventing the Germany captain from going to the World Cup and ultimately ending his international career.
“I never meant to hurt him,” Kevin-Prince told FIFA.com shortly before the tournament. “I apologised on the spot – it was a late challenge, nothing more. The media have given me this ‘bad boy’ tag, and they just sit and wait for me to do something stupid. But I’m 23 now, I’m married and I have a son. I hope I can rid myself of this bad boy reputation over time.”
In the end, Germany ran out 1-0 winners in Johannesburg, as both sides made it through to the knockout stages – Germany went on to finish third, while Ghana lost on penalties to Uruguay in a heartbreaking quarter-final. Jerome and Kevin-Prince had become the first brothers to come up against each other at a World Cup, and curious quirk of Fate meant they did so again in the group stage in Brazil four years later.
“It’s a special experience to face your own brother at the World Cup and it’s obviously not the first time,” Kevin-Prince said before the 2014 meeting in Fortaleza, which ended with family honour intact on both sides after a 2-2 draw. “This will be a particularly special moment for us both.”
Indeed, it would turn out to be a life-changing tournament for Jerome. By this time, the younger Boateng brother had become first-choice centre-back at Bayern, and was already a two-time Bundesliga champion and a UEFA Champions League winner. He played all but 45 minutes in Brazil as Germany lifted their fourth World Cup, completing his journey from promising youngster to genuine world-class star.