In January, FC Barcelona shocked the football world by going into the transfer market and coming out with US Sassuolo’s Kevin-Prince Boateng – the odds you would have got on that!
The former Tottenham and Portsmouth midfielder has been a journeyman since he left English shores playing for a host of clubs in Germany, Spain and Italy and collected a few trophies along the way.
To say Boateng has been experimental with his appearance and his choice of squad numbers would be an understatement – never afraid to express himself, he himself once performed a Michael Jackson dance routine in front of a packed San Siro.
The enigmatic midfielder occupied three different numbers during his two spells at AC Milan, including the coveted number 10, and has not been afraid of picking out-of-position numbers since he moved away from Italy.
With the majority of his previous numbers already occupied in Catalonia it will be a debut season as a number 19 for Boateng – although it would seem from his track record that the number on his back is unlikely to bother him.
As he prepares for life at the pinnacle, let’s examine the squad number history of Barcelona’s new man in the mirror.
Hertha BSC (2005-07)
Born in West Berlin to a German mother and a Ghanaian father, Boateng and younger brother Jerome joined the Hertha Berlin ranks at a young age.
His debut came during the 2005-06 Bundesliga season, when he was introduced in the second half against Eintracht Frankfurt wearing number 27 – a number that would stick with him for the rest of his career.
The following season, he shaved it down to number 17 and began to show his talent picking up young player awards before the Premier League came calling.
Tottenham Hotspur (2007-09)
In 2007, Tottenham beat Sevilla in the race to sign Boateng and presented him with number 17 for his inaugural season in England.
Borussia Dortmund (2009, loan)
Things didn’t work out at White Hart Lane and after a goalless 18 months he was loaned back to Germany to see out the rest of the 2008-09 season with Borussia Dortmund – where he wore number 22.
After returning from his loan spell Boateng was transferred to Portsmouth and was handed number 23 for another crack at the Premier League.
Three league goals and some sporadic impressive performances, however, were sadly not enough to save Pompey from relegation and if his ego wasn’t too big for the Championship, his talent definitely was.
AC Milan (2010-13)
While his brother was being courted by Manchester City, Boateng became involved in a co-ownership deal that saw him join Genoa before immediately being loaned to AC Milan.
With many of the more favourable midfield numbers already occupied by Milan stars, Boateng opted to reprise his debut squad number, number 27, for the 2010-11 season.
The season returned two trophies as Zlatan Ibrahimović’s exploits led Milan to the Serie A and Supercoppa Italiana titles.
The highlight of the inked-up midfielder’s Milan career came against Lecce the following season when he became only the second player in Serie A history to score a hat-trick after coming on as a substitute.
After the departure of San Siro hero, Clarence Seedorf, Boateng inherited number 10 for the 2012-13 season, the first time in his career that the Ghanaian had worn a conventional number between 1-11.
It was to be his only season in the famous shirt and after a more defensive position limited his obvious creative talent, he returned to Germany.
Schalke 04 (2013-15)
In 2013, Boateng rejoined his brother – who by now was playing at the heart of the Bayern Munich defence – in the Bundesliga and signed for Schalke 04.
With number 10 occupied by Julian Draxler and number 17 being worn by Jefferson Farfan, Boateng opted to ignore the vacant number 27 and defected to become an unorthodox number 9.
Wearing a striker’s number seemed to have a positive effect on the 2010 World Cup star’s goal return too as he chalked up six Bundesliga goals over the season.
However, the purple patch did not last for long and after the goals dried up things turned sour for Boateng.
Following a defeat to FC Koln in December 2015, he was told he could find a new club by then-manager Roberto Di Matteo and a swift departure ensued.
AC Milan (2016)
Boateng ignored Di Matteo’s orders and, rather than find himself a new club, he returned to the San Siro to see out the 2015-16 season.
In his absence, Milan had bestowed number 10 on Keisuke Honda, given Juraj Kucka his old number 27 and even filled his newly-favoured number 9 with Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano.
Squad numbers can make players do the craziest things sometimes and when the only alternative is to pick a boring number they don’t like – who can blame them?
One last roll of the dice for the Prince produced the ‘digit-switch’ – yeah, that’s right, he wore number 72 for 14 games. The man is a just an out-and-out entertainer.
It wasn’t the first time that AC Milan had seen the stunt pulled either. When David Beckham arrived on-loan from LA Galaxy he found his now iconic number 23 occupied by Massimo Ambrosini and decided to switch his digits to wear number 32. Perhaps that’s what inspired Boateng?
One goal in 14 appearances was not enough to earn the copycat a permanent contract and when Silvio Berlusconi came to trimming the fat, it was Boateng’s head that was one of those on the chopping block.
UD Las Palmas (2016-17)
For a brief moment in time, Las Palmas was an attractive destination for established European footballers and the habitual jet-setter was one of the first to unpack his suitcase there.
A new adventure in the Spanish top-flight gave birth to a more attacking Boateng and one that decided it was high-time he wore number 7.
He plundered ten goals that season playing as a striker, which perhaps begs the question as to why he wasn’t used in that position very often at his previous clubs.
Then of course there was THAT goal against Villarreal and this time you definitely know the one I mean – little dink > back-heel > Boateng scissor-kick > goal.
Naturally, Boateng didn’t stick around and, after perhaps foreseeing Las Palmas’ imminent demise, he fled back to the Bundesliga.
Eintracht Frankfurt (2017-18)
At this point he had become a journeyman, no question about it, but he was still getting contracts in Europe’s top tiers.
Unable to continue wearing number 7 thanks to Danny Blum, Boateng returned to number 17 a decade after first wearing it for Tottenham.
And as if to spite the North London club, it brought about his first trophy in seven years as Boateng’s Frankfurt overcame his younger brother’s Bayern Munich side in a thrilling German Cup final.
The 3-1 win would have seen Kevin-Prince and Jerome face-off against one another wearing the same squad number, but injury prevented the younger sibling from taking part.
The coup of his first trophy in German football was not enough to keep Boateng in Frankfurt and, come the summer, it was auf wiedersehen again.
US Sassuolo (2018-)
Northern Italy beckoned but, instead of reuniting with Milan once more, it was destination Sassuolo.
Nine clubs and counting now, his return to Italy also brought about a reunion with number 27, with number 17 dished out to fellow summer signing Leonardo Sernicola.
Five goals and some good performances in Serie A meant that he was doing okay 15 games into his Sassuolo career, but nobody could have foreseen what was about to happen.
FC Barcelona (2019, loan)
The strange goings on at Barcelona have been well documented in recent years and highlighted by some bizarre transfer activity.
The previous summer signings of Malcom and Arturo Vidal had fallen short of the mark, making it even stranger that the Catalans should allow Munir El Haddadi and the in-form Paco Alcacer to make permanent moves away from the club in the January transfer window.
Barça manager Ernesto Valverde was said to be after a back-up striking option with La Liga experience as cover for Luis Suarez and so the obvious choice had to be Kevin-Prince Boateng, right?
Right! The Spanish champions made their move and, after a whirlwind few days, Boateng was unveiled as the club’s new number 19 – a number he had never worn before.
The current form of Lionel Messi and the lack of any serious title challenge from Real Madrid or Atlético Madrid means that the move will likely result in a share in the 2018-19 La Liga trophy and possibly more for Boateng.
Having represented Germany at youth level, Boateng opted to make use of his dual citizenship and play his international football for Ghana.
He was selected as part of the Black Stars’ 2010 World Cup and wore number 23 for the tournament – the same number he had just worn during the 2009-10 Premier League season.
Boateng faced off against his brother Jerome, who had opted to play for Germany, in their final group game of the tournament but, despite losing 1-0, Ghana progressed.
He went on to score a vital goal in their last-16 victory against United States before the Black Stars were cruelly dumped out of the quarter-finals to Luis Suarez’s Uruguay. That’s a story for another day.
Boateng retired from international football but came back into the fold for the 2014 World Cup, where he wore number 9 for the tournament – the same number he had just worn during the 2013-14 Bundesliga season for Schalke 04. And you thought he didn’t know what consistent meant.
As if drawn together by fate, Ghana ended up in the same group as Germany once more, meaning the two brothers had another chance to meet in a World Cup – this time the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
Losses against United States and Portugal however meant that the Black Stars were knocked out in the group stages but Boateng did not get to see the end of the tournament as he was sent home early for disciplinary reasons.
His dismissal also sigalled his permanent retirement, with 15 appearances and two goals to his name.