Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng looking back on his five years at the Allianz Arena, he now considers that game an important turning point in his career.
The centre-back was then a promising but inconsistent defender following his €13.5 million move back to the Bundesliga from Manchester City in 2011, mixing moments of supreme athleticism with some disastrous lapses of concentration.
“It was good for me to be on the bench for a bit,” Because I had to learn to calm down on the pitch. Back then, I was so desperate to get involved, to make up for mistakes or to help out my teammates that I rushed into tackles far too quickly. I had to have more control.”
Part of the problem was simply down to inexperience Boateng, born in 1988, was still learning his trade in those years but the enforced break made him realise that his mentality had to change, too. He needed to be switched on much more, at all times.
His journey to the top wasn’t an easy one, however. At the 2012 Champions League final against Chelsea in Bayern’s home town, his somewhat tepid challenge allowed Didier Drogba to score a late 1-1 equaliser from the Blues’ only corner of the game.
Boateng improved a lot in the next season as Bayern bounced back to win the Champions League, but doubts about his temperament persisted all the way to the World Cup final, where he was arguably the best player on the pitch. Bayern’s trust was at last vindicated.
“I would stay behind every day after training and hit 30, 40 long balls with [assistant coach] Peter Hermann,” he says. “If you do that, you get better eventually.” And next on his list for personal improvement is a higher goal-scoring rate. “Six goals [in all competitions since 2011] is not enough, I have to find the net more often,” he says, while revealing he’s currently working extra shifts fine-tuning his runs and jumps.
As far as his core task of defending is concerned, however, Boateng is firmly ensconced in the world’s elite. His reliability on the pitch has ushered in more confidence off it; the rather shy, introvert boy has turned into one of the most vocal members of the Bayern and Germany squads, and is now being seen as future captain material for both. “It would be a dream for me,” he admits.
Boateng was critical of Bayern’s performance in the 1-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid last month, saying, “You can’t win playing like that, we didn’t show enough.” And he is equally candid in addressing the team’s problems in the wake of two disappointing draws, against Cologne and Eintracht Frankfurt, in the Bundesliga.
“It’s not the end of the world, it’s not a crisis,” he says. “But at Bayern, we have higher aspirations, we demand more of ourselves. We cannot be happy when we don’t win three games in a row and don’t play well. I believe all of us and I include myself in that have to work a lot harder, show more aggression on the pitch and have the right attitude from the very first moment.”
The change from Guardiola’s high-pressing, high-intensity game to a more varied approach under Carlo Ancelotti will take a bit more time to come to fruition but Boateng warns that the team must quickly do what he himself had to do in the past: to learn to stay switched on and fully focused without the ball.