There are few stages that have the potential to mark some of footballs defining moments. Sir Geoff Hurst knows first-hand how such moments come alive. He remains the only footballer to lay claim to a hat-trick in a World Cup final and it was at Wembley, against Germany in 1966, where 90,000 people witnessed the magnificent achievement that sealed England’s first and only triumph on footballs grandest stage. It was also the moment Hurst would be remembered for in his career. Fast forward forty four years and Chelsea were looking to make history as they aim for the clubs first ever league and cup double. The Wembley of 1966 has of course been knocked down and the famous two towers have been replaced by the amazing arch but the romance still lingers.
The Blues opponents on the day were cash strapped Portsmouth who came with their own incentives. A troubled season on the south coast failed to demoralise Portsmouth who arrived with plenty of fire in their belly. Despite a spirited fight from their opposite numbers Chelsea eventually got their hands on the historic double. They make up a band of only seven clubs in English football to have achieved such a feat. But it was in the thirty-fifth minute of this cup final that was to open a chapter in one of footballs array of compelling archives. Germany’s captain Michael Ballack was in possession when a young Kevin Prince Boateng came storming in. The tackle would leave the Bavarians without their skipper for the entire World Cup just weeks away. German born Boateng is of Ghanaian descent and had the chance to follow in his brothers footsteps, Jerome Boateng of Bayern Munchen, and join Ballack and co in the black and white of Germany. But he instead opted for The Black Stars who had their own World Cup ambitions to pursue. In hindsight it was a good choice as the whole of Germany had moved to condemn Boateng’s challenge.
Over a year has passed since that cup final and in that period Boateng helped Ghana to the quarter-finals whilst also securing a move to Italian giants AC Milan. Not many players can handle such leaps early on in their careers but Boateng’s confidence is quite unique. After Milan secured their 18th Scudetto, their first since 2004, Boateng took charge of the celebrations at the San Siro giving his rendition of Michael Jackson’s moon walk. But it is his skills on the pitch that are what Milan value him for. These skills were only enforced when Milan met Lecce at Stadio Via Del Mare on a Sunday afternoon at the back end of October. Boateng started on the bench for Milan due to a knee problem. Emergency and emergency only would see him introduced to the contest. And a contest it was as Lecce raced into a 3-0 lead at half time. Massimo Allegri needed to change the game and pleaded with Boateng to set aside his knee problems and come on to help Milan rescue an impossible situation.
His first touch in the opening ten seconds of the second half was a thirty yard strike that was tipped over the bar. And in fourteen early second half minutes Boateng made the impossible possible. He fired in the second quickest hat-trick of all time from a midfield player to help Milan produce a stunning come back and win the game 4-3. What’s more impressive was the manner of his goals. His first coming from a knockdown inside the box after Lecce failed to clear from a corner. The ball bobbled up kindly for him but on his left side he still had plenty to do. But plenty was no ask and with his weaker foot he made the sweetest of contacts to rifle the ball into the top corner. 3-1. His second owes more credit to his team mates rather than poor defending as patient build up on the left hand side saw Antonio Cassano in possession and he picked out his team mate on the edge of the box. Without a second thought Boateng unleashed a thunderbolt that smashed into the roof of the net. 3-2. Milan were now in the ascendency and Kevin Prince Boateng was in total control of the contest. Milan won a free kick just inside Lecce’s half and it was launched into the box. Again Lecce had failed to deal with it and the ball dropped just on the six yard box. Cue Kevin Prince as he pounced to level the game and make history. His celebrations were passionate and short lived. He wanted more. Three goals were magnificent but three points would be glorious. And very late on Mario Yepes rose at the far post to head in another Cassano pass. Milan were jubilant.
Milan fans have grown accustomed to this kind of quality in a player. Such qualities however have eluded the club in recent years. The glorious era under Arrigo Sacchi and Carlo Ancelotti are a distant memory and the club cannot quite come to terms with that. Players such as Kaka, Shevchenko, Maldini, Rivaldo, Inzaghi, Pirlo are to name a few that have led the club to glorious success and it is no longer the case at the San Siro. Kevin Prince Boateng’s performances for the side, especially at Lecce, give Milan hope that there is someone ready to assume the responsibilities of this great team. With ability comes the necessity for attitude and Boateng has bags of both. His application will only grow and Milan will feel they can help him reach his full potential.
What’s more astonishing was the fact that Boateng announced his retirement from international football after just nine caps for Ghana a couple of weeks after his super-hero performance at Lecce. His reasons were that he wants to avoid the risk of injury. Clearly his growing career in Italy, for Milan, is more important and the club have inspired this decision from Boateng. He is still young and needs maturing but what the Rossoneri have on their hands is a tremendous talent and if nurtured appropriately could just help them re-establish their status as kings of Europe.