Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng is one of the elder statesmen of the Bundesliga, but he has been most enthused by its metamorphosis into a talent hub in recent years.
Germany’s top flight has proved to be development gold for gifted young players looking to pick up regular minutes in a fast, intense division – and has also become a favoured transfer mine for Europe’s elite clubs.
Ahead of the new season, Chelsea have already recruited Timo Werner for £48million from RB Leipzig and are in negotiations to land the £90m-rated Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen.
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Frank Lampard benefited from the brilliance of Christian Pulisic in 2019-20, nurtured at Borussia Dortmund, so it was no surprise to see the club return to the German market to spend huge outlays on players with high ceilings.
Manchester United are primed to join them. Jadon Sancho has been Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s priority target, and while there is some distance between BVB’s valuation and the price the club are willing to pay at present, all signs point to a deal going through this summer.
Scouts serving the Premier League and La Liga have also been doing due diligence on Dayot Upamecano, Weston McKennie, Christopher Nkunku and Ozan Kabak – to name just a few.
“I think it shows the Bundesliga teams give young talent time to grow,” Boateng says. “I think they feel well treated in Germany. They have time to grow slowly.
“Sometimes as a young player, you have times when you don’t play so well. In some other countries I think it is really strict – they have a bad game, they are out for weeks.
“In Germany, they take care of them. The clubs give them confidence, so that’s why they grow so well.”
The defender has enjoyed watching Pulisic’s game-changing displays for Chelsea after four years at Signal Iduna Park – an eventuality he envisaged.
“If I don’t have the wrong information, when he just arrived he didn’t have such a good start,” Boateng says as he thinks back to the forward’s adjustment period at Stamford Bridge. “I think he improved in the last few months. I’m not surprised.
“He was always a great player in the Bundesliga and I think the step for him to Chelsea was really good for him to improve in a different league. He brings a lot of good things for the team when he comes in. Even if he doesn’t start, he creates goals, scores goals and he’s in a really good performance level at the moment.”
Boateng, who spent the 2010-11 season at Manchester City in which they won the FA Cup that sparked their appetite for trophies, also expects Werner to become a luminary. The same applies if Havertz and Sancho complete switches to England.
“All these players had really good seasons,” Boateng says. “Kai, Timo and Sancho are all really good talents. They have played for a long time now and I think they are all ready for the Premier League.
“Of course you have to show that first of all. It’s not that easy because it’s a different league. The intensity is different. It’s a different style of game. They have to see if they feel comfortable and like it there.”
Boateng is grateful for the year he spent in England, even if it was hampered by a knee injury and playing out of position at right-back. Given the opportunity, he’d love to experience the division again.
“I would not say no. I love the Premier League, I loved also when I was there to play,” he says. “It was really unlucky because I got injured straight away and then I didn’t really play the position they promised me.
“But I still took a lot from this year, playing in the Premier League, it helped me a lot to play and train with great players, world-class players.
“I am definitely down for it, but I don’t know for the future. You never know. But it’s not that I would say ‘I never want to play there’. It’s one of my favourite leagues for sure.”
Leroy Sane has made the same move – City to Bayern – and Boateng expects “extra creativity” from the attacker.
“He’s an outstanding player and is coming back from a long injury so maybe he needs a little bit of time now to get back where he was,” he says. “But I am sure he will be even better than he was before. We have players who are special and he has that, also, and can decide games on his own.”
For all the talk of the ability of others, Boateng has been in exceptional form himself, playing 34 times this season. He says this season “has brought back the joy in football” having featured the most since 2014-15.
When he was out of the team, the centre-back had contemplated whether his future would be better served away from the Allianz Arena.
“There were hard times,” he says. “It’s like being a child: as a child if I had no confidence, if you don’t get trust from your friends you play with, then you lose the joy of the game and fun.
“That’s what happens now, even when I’m older. Of course there were thoughts at some stage, ‘do I need to change now?’ Because like this I really not get a fair chance. Of course, you think about this because I won’t play football for ever and I want to enjoy football.
“I knew still trained good, I worked hard and in my opinion – not everybody has to have the same opinion – I deserved a chance to play and and to show more that I can play at a high level.
“That was it, and at some point if you see it’s not working between the sides then you have to make a clean, but like a nice cut, not a dirty cut.”
Boateng ultimately didn’t need to do that and is now targeting adding another Champions League trophy to his haul.
“I think every season of course has its own story and to win this Champions League… it’s always something special to win the Champions League, but this is not like every year,” he says, referring to the coronavirus-enforced suspension of football and how its reshaped the format of the tournament.
“It’s really hard work and it’s special, it has its own story to it, and now also of course to the team who will win it. At the end, they will say, we won the Champions League with this kind of little tournament, it was different, but we made it.
“Of course, every team and me personally, I want to win the Champions League again, because it’s amazing and it pays off great work as a team. It’s really hard to win the Champions League, it’s not easy. How we talk, ‘Oh, you go to Chelsea, you do this, do this and then you’ve won’ – it’s not like that.
“There are always lots of things you need to do to win the Champions League. First of all you need a little bit of luck – you see that over the years, with things like referee decisions or how sometimes you don’t perform as a team like you should.
“So it’s a lot of stuff that comes together and little details in the end decide whether you go to the next round or win the final. So I think as a team you have to have a strong mentality, everyone has to go in the one direction and that’s really important.
“You see the teams who won the Champions League, including the last years: they always prepare well and as a team whether it is Madrid or Liverpool, they were like a little family sticking together.”
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