Jerome Boateng has given a German newspaper a frank assessment of his injuries, a pivotal night in Paris and the challenge facing Germany in Russia. The Bayern Munich man says he's not been at his best for five years.
Boateng has been a regular in Bayern Munich's starting line-up since joining from Manchester City in 2011, but of late has had to endure one of the most testing periods of his professional career. Since the start of the 2016/17 campaign, the 68-cap German international's list of injuries reads like a what's what of footballing ailments.
"You've got to be careful," warned Boateng when discussing the physical toll modern footballers have to cope with, both on and off the pitch with Süddesutsche Zeitung. "Even off the pitch, there are constant demands. We know they're important, but turning off is becoming increasingly more difficult."
The Berlin native has only made 30 appearances in all competitions for the German record titleholders since the start of last season, but is hoping he'll reap the long-term benefits of a patient approach to recovery. "You need time to get back in the groove and get back to your level," said Boateng. "That's why, right now, it's important to sit out the odd game in order to have stability in the second half of the season and to get back to peak performance levels."
The summer recruitment of fellow German international Niklas Süle was crucial in allowing Boateng to pick his moments. The former Hoffenheim man's excellent performances have eased the pressure on Bayern's backline and allowed Boateng to take his time as he bids to get back to his best form, which he claims last came "in the quarter finals of Euro 2012".
"To spend so many years in this rhythm - someone can't go through that without it leaving a trace," continued Boateng. "We're not just playing football, we're flying to places like China in the meantime. We're constantly on tour and at some point your body starts letting you know 'I'm still here'. You ultimately acknowledge it when you're in-game. During matches, you notice that you're a little slower off the mark, that you're missing a gear, the last dynamic, the last bit of aggression."
Boateng has himself said that injuries hampered his ability to make an impact under Carlo Ancelotti. However, he did recount a "very peculiar" night in Paris, when five players were "all of a sudden and without explanation" told they wouldn't be featuring against Paris Saint Germain in the UEFA Champions League.
After choosing not to rush himself back into action, Boateng has made just nine appearances this season
That game ultimately proved to be the Italian's last as Bayern head coach and, with Jupp Heynckes returning to the fold, the Bavarians have gotten back on track and turned a five-point deficit into a four-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga. According to Boateng, the veteran head coach has only changed "the basic things", but his impact has been profound.
"For me he's much more than just the head coach with whom we won the treble in 2013," Boateng admitted. "We maintained contact even after his departure and he belongs to a select group of people in my life who also get in touch when things aren't going as well, during my injury lay-off for example. What he's like on a human level is a huge factor in our success. Every player feels important."
Jupp Heynckes has got Bayern back on track, winning six of seven games since taking over from Carlo Ancelotti
There's no denying that the defensive stalwart is crucial for both club and country. However, with head coach Joachim Löw challenging his players to conduct themselves professionally, stating he was "serious" about players being in form before April, even Boateng isn't taking anything for granted ahead of the summer showpiece in Russia.
"I think it's good that he's come out and said that. Every one of us should feel the need to push ourselves ahead of him making such a big decision. I know I've got a good chance if I'm fit, but we all need to be aware that there is competition. It's good for us. We need it to reach our ultimate goal: We absolutely want to defend our World Cup title. There are four or five strong teams at the tournament, but if we all stand together then we've got a really, really good chance.
As for the future, Boateng is hoping to stay fit so as to be able to continue playing at the highest level and reckons he's got at least one more tournament left in him after this summer. "2020 should still be manageable," concluded Boateng. "At least I hope it will be."