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How shock Barcelona signing Kevin-Prince Boateng has been reborn as a false nine

11:56 GMT 22/01/2019
Kevin-Prince Boateng Barcelona 2018-19
The 31-year-old's loan move to Camp Nou has taken the football world by surprise but the versatile attacker excelled as a centre-forward at Sassuolo

Kevin-Prince Boateng has always enjoyed being in the spotlight. Literally.

It was during AC Milan's Scudetto celebrations at a sold-out San Siro in 2011 that Boateng took to the stage and performed a 'Moonwalk' while dressed as Michael Jackson from his iconic 'Motown 25' appearance in 1983.

When he completed his surprise switch to Sassuolo during the summer, Boateng confirmed the transfer with an Instagram post imitating the one used by Cristiano Ronaldo to announce his move to Juventus.

It was an amusing, cheeky and self-deprecating admission on the Ghana international's part that his return to Italy had been completely overshadowed by Ronaldo's arrival.

Some seven months on, though, and Boateng could legitimately claim to have been involved in the most shocking move of the January transfer window.

The 31-year-old's loan move to Barcelona on Monday took everyone by surprise, including the player himself.

He was left in a daze by what he described as "a stressful and frenetic" 24 hours, almost overwhelmed by the unexpected opportunity to join "the biggest club in the world".

Yet despite his desire to travel to Barcelona to seal the deal as quickly as possible, he made a point of saying goodbye to his team-mates and coach Roberto De Zerbi in person.

The latter certainly deserves all of Boateng's gratitude for making this remarkable move happen.

De Zerbi not only pushed for Sassuolo to sign Boateng, he made it happen.

"He didn't ask me to come," Boateng told Sportweek , "he ordered me to."

De Zerbi was convinced that Boateng, who had spent the majority of his career playing as an attacking midfielder, could be an effective 'false nine'.

"He's a total footballer," the coach declared before the season began. "He can play any role and by playing in that position up front, he is able to lift the whole team."

Those words proved prophetic, with Boateng opening his account with a goal in the Coppa Italia before striking three times in his first five Serie A outings.

"De Zerbi gives me what I need on the field today: freedom but with so many options," Boateng enthused.

"He's a genius in the way in which he sees football. He's teaching me how to always find the right position, in every play."

Whether he now knows enough about his new role to excel at Camp Nou is a different matter altogether.

Boateng has never been a prolific goalscorer. Only once in his career has he ended a season in double figures.

Crucially, though, it came in La Liga in 2016-17, when he netted 10 times for Las Palmas, including a spectacular scissor-kick against Villarreal and a fine finish against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Barca were impressed with his performances on Gran Canaria, where he spent the second half of the season playing up front.

He has looked even more comfortable in the role this term in Reggio Emilia, although it is worth pointing out that he has scored just once in Serie A since September 21.

Injury has played its part, though, as Boateng was out for just over a month with a pelvis problem picked up against Parma on November 25 and missed five games as a result.

Indeed, Saturday night's 0-0 draw with Inter at San Siro was the first time he has completed 90 minutes since September.

In that context, Barcelona's decision is baffling. If they were looking for a versatile thirty-something forward excelling in Serie A, Gervinho would have made more sense, with the former Arsenal man flourishing at Parma.

However, the Blaugrana had three requirements for a new forward: cheap, La Liga experience and willing to sit on the bench. Boateng ticks all three boxes.

He is also a versatile and technically gifted attacker with intelligent movement and a flair for the unexpected – as Barcelona know full well. One of his finest goals came against the Blaugrana, for Milan in the Champions League last 16 in 2013.

Of course, Boateng is no longer the same player. But then, he is no longer the same person either.

He freely admits that he never made the most of his talent in his twenties because he never acted professionally – he once noted that he flew to Berlin just to find a good kebab.

"I know that I messed up a lot when I was young because I wasn't serious and I didn't have the right people around me, unlike today," he told the Gazzetta dello Sport .

"I feel that in spite of my good career, if I'd been more professional, I would have been able to go even higher."

He previously stated he was good enough to have played for Real Madrid. Now he has the chance to line out for Barcelona, and is already hoping to score another goal at the Bernabeu, this time in a Clasico.

One wouldn't rule it out either. Boateng has already made his first forays into the world of music, while he has designs on becoming an actor when he retires. 

His designated role at Camp Nou may be to serve as Luis Suarez's understudy but, knowing Boateng, don't be surprised if he ends up stealing some of the spotlight between now and the end of the season.