Kevin-Prince Boateng extended his contract with Hertha BSC by a year last week. This week he is in a training camp with the Berlin Bundesliga team in Kienbaum. On Tuesday, the 35-year-old spoke in a media round: about coach Sandro Schwarz, the new president Kay Bernstein and the end of his career.
Mr. Boateng, how do you like Kienbaum?
Great (laughs). No, I was never a fan of Kienbaum, even as a young boy. Kienbaum means that you sweat a lot, work a lot. But that’s exactly what we have to do: we have to work.
It was your own decision to add another season.
I couldn’t stop like that. The last year has been too turbulent, too much action, too many negative headlines, too many negative results. And I’m still in the mood to play. I want to gamble a little more. I think you can see that in training too. I don’t even want to talk about whether there will be minutes in the Bundesliga or not. I just want to take it again.
And after the season?
I said that last year, but this will definitely be my last season as a professional footballer – even if we qualify for the Champions League. I’ll do everything again for the club and for myself too. That’s why I want to enjoy every day, no matter what happens.
You said you were still hungry. Has the last game of the past season, the 2-0 win against HSV in Hamburg, made you hungry again?
Yes, I think after the Hamburg game everyone – the fans, the club, those responsible and I – felt something. There is still energy in there, something is tingling. The fact that I was so important in the last game was of course also important for me. The club invested in me and trusted me. I know exactly what I’ve been doing all season, how I’ve helped. But what counts in the end is on the pitch. That’s why the game in Hamburg was very, very important for both sides.
What happened in this game?
I didn’t think about relegation all season. But the day before the game I thought: If we don’t win tomorrow one way or the other, we’ll be relegated. Of course that couldn’t happen. That was such a little wake-up call for me. And I woke up the team too. That’s the positive thing, that in the 90 minutes we managed to be the Hertha family we want to be. It was a game after which you say: We will never get into this situation again. And if it does, at least we know what it takes to get out of there as quickly as possible.
What happened in the relegation?
It’s hard to explain when you’ve been looking for cohesion all season and only find it in the last game. We’ve been trying all along. Sometimes there was solidarity. Then you thought: that’s it. But the next week there was again nothing to see of this passion to fight together, one for the other. That’s why it’s difficult to say what we’ll take away from this game. Maybe just knowing we can. If we all pull together, it’s possible.
When you look back on your long career, what is the position of the relegation game, also emotionally?
The emotion only came the day before the game, but then like a punch. Then I thought: Okay, let’s get started. We were already declared dead, no one believed in us anymore. Because we still made it, this game is already way up on my emotional scale. It’s no coincidence that I said: It’s like a championship. And then of course there is how it all happened: I was allowed to do the line-up. That makes it even nicer.
How exactly did that happen?
That was after breakfast or after lunch on game day. So I sat down with Magath. He asked me if I wanted to play. “Of course I want to play. I will play too. I have to play.” He laughed and said he was still considering where to let me play, on the six or on the ten. “Coach,” I said. “Honestly. If we play like this and like that, we win the game.”
How did Magath react?
He asked: “Is that what you mean?” Yes, I answered. But he said: “Belfodil and Jovetic and you, they’re all footballers. None of them go into depth.” I say, “Trust me. Let me do the line-up – and we’ll win the game.” Then he said: “Okay.” – What now? – “Okay. Do the constellation.” Then I called the first eleven and we had a meeting. I stood there, waved the laser pointer around and said: We’ll play like this. That was of course also the greatness of Felix Magath. Maybe he understood: Okay, the boy is from here. He has the Hertha DNA, he will do something good for the team.
Would you be interested in becoming a coach yourself?
My adviser always says I’m the perfect coach. But I don’t see myself that way yet. I have no patience. That’s my biggest problem. If things didn’t go well for my team, I would have made three substitutions after 20 minutes. As a coach, you have to stay calm sometimes. I still have to grow a bit to become a coach.
What lessons does Hertha have to learn from last season?
I wish that we would all work together to get a little more peace and really focus on the essential things. We have to live in the now. We have a new coach who is a breath of fresh air and a new president who is also a breath of fresh air for me.
Has Kay Bernstein, the new president, introduced himself to the team yet?
Not yet. I think he’s a bit busy now. But I met him once. This is a normal, nice guy. He doesn’t look like an ultra to me either, but he has the Hertha DNA and we just have to trust that people made the right choice.
What is your impression of Sandro Schwarz, the new coach? After all, he flew to Berlin during his vacation to meet you.
That didn’t happen to me often. But for me it was good to get to know him off the pitch. It’s always nicer to get a little bit of a feeling for a person. Our conversation lasted two and a half hours. After ten minutes we understood that we both want to work together and that there is a lot of energy between us. He was very positive, very direct, very open. That’s exactly what I like. I’m the same. We understand each other. I think the team accepted him really well too. And we’re all glad he’s here. He brings a positive, fresh wind with him.
A year ago you said that the team has a lot of talent, but talent alone is not enough. It also takes passion and will. How is it this time?
You have to wait and see. In the first week everyone is fully motivated and going full throttle. That’s what the coach demands. Nobody can hide there. That’s for sure. Because the trainer lives it completely. The most important thing is that it stays that way. But I know that the coach won’t turn a blind eye.
There were phases in the past season when you played little and yet – at least publicly – didn’t grumble. Have you become a bit more patient as you get older?
I’ve never had patience, and I never will. Of course there were moments when I wanted to explode, when I was angry and not satisfied. But I put the team first. I said that from the start. And I lived that too. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. Because when Prince causes trouble, it’s different than when someone else says something. That’s why I kept my mouth shut.
What role do you want to play in your final season?
The same as last season: helping, being there, being the daddy of the youngsters and then hopefully showing on the pitch what I showed in Hamburg and in a couple of games before that. I feel good. The coach understands me, I understand the coach. You will see the rest. I’m looking forward. I enjoy every day – even if it gets hard.
In Hamburg you played as a tenth. Is this your preferred position?
I haven’t talked to the coach about that yet. First of all, we talked about whether I would continue playing at all. But ten has always been my favorite position. I can’t do anything about it. I love that, it’s where I feel the most free, the best. It’s also funny: whenever I play there, I play well. But the coach decides where he needs me. I would also play right back. I only do that for maybe 15 minutes because it goes back and forth a bit too quickly.
How is your physical condition?
I was waiting for the question (laughs). I feel incredibly good. I weigh 84 kilograms now, it was the last time I was in Milan. Last year I was 88, 89. That says a lot. Of course we are in the early stages of preparation. I can’t say I’m in top form. But I feel better than last year at the same time.
How did you do it: lose five kilograms?
wedding stress. This is the best diet. Marriage Stress and Moving. I didn’t have a vacation this year. I think that’s it.
Recorded by Stefan Hermanns.