JOY AT LAST?: LAS PALMAS PROMISE BOATENG HAPPIER DAYS

The Berlin-born needs to make the most of his latest career move and leave his demons behind him for a solid legacy

By: Sammie Frimpong

To play and to be adored: that’s every footballer’s heartfelt desire — the draw of money only grows stronger a little later.

For sometime now, Ghana midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng hasn’t had much of either essential. Life — and joy — had long been sucked from his international career, after being dismissed from the Black Stars camp over alleged indisciplinary deeds at the 2014 Fifa World Cup, and trouble at club level followed shortly thereafter. Frozen by his German employers, Schalke 04, in May 2015, Boateng sat out the rest of the year idle. The 29-year-old’s previous club, AC Milan — where he starred during a happier period in his life — offered a lifeline at the beginning of 2016 but, by mid-year, that opportunity had been thoroughly under-utilised and wouldn’t be extended on expiration.

Unattached, Boateng and his agents began the search for a new club. The two-time World Cup participant struggled not for suitors — his profile is still huge enough albeit considerably lesser than it was — but, for a while, none seemed to tick the right boxes. . . till La Liga campaigners Las Palmas entered the fray.

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Granted, the Canary Islands club isn’t very popular among football fans this side of the Atlantic — many would rather identify the name with a popular chain of eateries which thrives in the Ghanaian capital than with a top-flight European club. Yet it is at Las Palmas (er, the football club, obviously), in the comforts of its Estadio Gran Canaria home, that Boateng’s dreams could be fulfilled. The move initiates the former Tottenham Hotspur and Portsmouth man into a fourth European football culture of his career and, if nothing at all, he did sound excited to take a piece of Spain with him when it’s all eventually said and done, gushing over the fact that his latest switch offers a chance to soak in “a new adventure. . . a new country [and] a new language.”

The short-term and on-pitch benefits — even if Boateng stays in the Iberian state no more than the initial one year he’s been contracted for — are just as great, if not better.

Creaking under the strain of age and recent injuries, Boateng isn’t quite the force he once was. Las Palmas, unlike Schalke and Milan, are no European super-power; expectations are far more modest although, being arguably the biggest fish in the club’s pond, Boateng would shoulder a bit more pressure than many of his teammates.

He expects to play, of course, and may already have assurances from manager Quique Setien.

“In my mind,” Boateng said in an interview this week, “I have the first league match and hope to be in the best physical condition.”

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Even better, he feels he’s found an environment where his abilities and not-always-so-likeable persona might be appreciated, describing Las Palmas as ‘a place where [he gets] love’, a conclusion probably based on the reception that embraced him at his official unveiling on Tuesday. It wasn’t exactly Cristiano Ronaldo’s welcome party staged by Real Madrid and its faithful back in 2009, but the fact that nearly one-fifths of the stadium’s 32,000-odd capacity turned up to celebrate Boateng’s arrival was as firm an indication as any that their new hero, if his form and attitude please (and, with Boateng, there are hardly ever any guarantees), this could prove some romance.

Play and be adored, right?

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