Ahead of Germany’s March friendly with Serbia, the country’s fans unveiled a massive tifo thanking World Cup-winning trio Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng for their service to the national team.
The Bayern Munich players had been retired by head coach Joachim Low as he looked to build a new generation of superstars. Many of those fans would have been Bayern supporters as well, and may end up recycling the final third of the “Danke 5-13-17” banner this summer.
Boateng’s Germany goodbye is now likely to be repeated in Munich as Bayern build a new generation of their own.
Having already added some of the best young home-made talent like Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry, the rebuild moves into the second phase at the end of the season, with the addition of young but already successful internationals.
Uli Hoeness and the Bayern board have begun their business early, agreeing to break the bank to sign two of last year’s World Cup winners in Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.
Unfortunately for Boateng, both players are adept at playing in his position, where Niklas Sule is seen as the future of the Bayern backline.
With Hernandez and Pavard arriving in the summer, either Boateng or Hummels is likely to be on the way out as both have now entered their 30s.
Boateng is slightly older than his long-term defensive partner for club and country, but recent injury history leaves him as a riskier option for the new-look Bayern.
A summer exit would not be surprising, especially as the club had shopped him around last year only for their asking price to scupper a move to Paris Saint-Germain.
“There were talks with Paris, that’s no secret,” he told Die Welt in August. “The project there was interesting, the talks with [coach] Thomas Tuchel were good.”
Boateng was also a target of Manchester United last year during Jose Mourinho’s tenure, but that interest is unlikely to be renewed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
In the past 12 months, the 30-year-old’s stock has fallen significantly, meaning that the likes of PSG and United may no longer be interested. despite the defender proving his fitness by staying largely injury free in 2018-19.
Much was made of Low’s decision to retire his first-choice centre-back pairing, but his move to a back three paid dividends against the Netherlands, with wing-back Nico Schulz scoring the winner to start Euro 2020 qualification with an important win in Amsterdam.
Central to that back three is Bayern’s Sule, who is proving to be Boateng’s replacement for both club and country.
Sule lined up between Borussia Monchengladbach’s Matthias Ginter and Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger, with the wing-back approach also allowing Joshua Kimmich to move into the midfield anchor role.
Bayern Munich and Germany are both moving on from Boateng, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago when he was regarded as the best defender in the world.
In eight seasons in Munich, Boateng won six league titles (so far) as well as the Champions League in 2013, the World Cup in 2014 and was named in the Team of the Tournament for Euro 2016 as Germany reached the semi-finals.
Just two years after that last individual accomplishment, though, Boateng was one of the scapegoats as Germany crashed out of the World Cup by failing to get out of their group.
Germany legend Lothar Matthaus singled the defender out, claiming he cared more about how he looked off the pitch than how he performed on it.
“For Boateng, I think [the question should be], is football the most important thing or is it the sunglasses and the earrings?” the former midfielder reporters.
“First, things have to be right on the pitch. These are signs of the outside, which the fans do not want to see. We treat every player like this, especially if the performance on the pitch isn’t right.
“But they do not have that with Boateng. You have to ask yourself – was the focus on football? Personally, I would not have brought in a hairdresser. I’m going to the hairdresser, but here in Moscow.”
Matthaus got what he wanted when Boateng was retired by Low, but could they come to regret it?
Boateng is still a regular starter at Bayern Munich, where Niko Kovac still values his experience and ability at the back. However, Hoeness and Bayern’s backroom have decided to look elsewhere, making his time limited at the Allianz Arena, despite what the coach may think.
Less than a year on from PSG talks and Manchester United speculation, Boateng is looking like football’s forgotten man.
Where he goes to next will be closely monitored, but will Europe’s biggest clubs still be interested?