FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: No.16 – Jerome Boateng
Jonathan Harding profiles the highest-ranked defender in this year's list…
Under Pep Guardiola, Jerome Boateng became the greatest defender in the world. During the summer of 2016, he was one of Germany’s most important players with some monstrous performances at Euro 2016. Post-tournament, he was crowned German Footballer of the Year. It was a reminder, however small, that in an age when attackers are valued more highly than ever, world-class defenders are just as important to their team’s fortunes.
In France, Boateng was at the heart of Joachim Low’s challenge for silverware. Right from the first whistle of the world champions’ opening game against Ukraine, his diagonal passes split defences and opened up Germany’s attack. When he wasn’t in possession, his timing in the tackle was superb – although he rarely has to make last-ditch interventions because his positional play is so good. Clearances weren’t an issue, either – against Ukraine, Boateng displayed remarkable agility to prevent the ball crossing the line.
In the knockouts, he scored a sensational opener against Slovakia (his first ever goal for Germany) and was brilliant against Italy, too. When he was forced off with injury after an hour of the semi-final meeting with France, Germany fell apart.
Die Mannschaft aren’t alone in their dependency on the centre-back. An abductor injury Boateng sustained at the start of 2016 sidelined him for three months – his longest absence since a knee injury at Manchester City in 2011.
During that time, Bayern Munich were missing something. It might not have been so noticeable in the Bundesliga, but in Europe it took Arturo Vidal and a sizeable slice of fortune against Juventus to see the Bavarians through to the semi-finals. Boateng returned for the second leg of the semi-final with Atletico Madrid; his presence wasn’t enough to see Bayern through, but his performance served as yet another reminder of how important he is for his club side.
A player transformed under the tutelage of Guardiola, Boateng has become the modern game’s archetypal defensive quarterback. His passing range and accuracy would impress Tom Brady, and he wins like the New England Patriots man, too: another domestic Double was added to his collection in 2016, with Boateng now a four-time Bundesliga champion.
Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival has put the brakes on Boateng’s dominance as the 28-year-old adjusts to his team’s new approach. The arrival of Germany team-mate Mats Hummels has taken some of the pressure off his shoulders, but it also means he’s no longer the only one spraying passes out from the back.
Despite being a fans’ favourite in Germany, Boateng was overlooked for the captaincy of the national team after Bastian Schweinsteiger’s departure. Nevertheless, he continues to reinforce his leadership qualities week in, week out. Vidal may be louder and fiercer, but Boateng’s quiet authority shines through and will be essential to the Bavarians’ chances of glory this season.
It might not have been as striking a year as 2015 (although his haircuts have certainly been memorable), but Boateng has continued to show why he’s one of the best defenders around. If he can score a few more goals – an area of his game he wants to improve – then Jay-Z's pal will make even more headlines in the next 12 months.
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FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016
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