George Boateng impressed after Silvain Distin breaks Premier League appearance record

 

Since the Premier League's inception back in 1992, England's top division has been invaded by an influx of foreign stars. Whilst many have been an absolute joy to watch, some have been downright awful and some haven't even turned up for games.

Hundreds of foreign footballers have travelled to English shores to play in a league that many describe simply as 'the best in the world'. Out of those players, Everton's Sylvain Distin claimed the award for most Premier League appearances for a foreign outfield player last weekend as he turned out for the Toffees in the Merseyside derby against Liverpool.

Having amassed 385 Premier League appearances since arriving at Newcastle on loan in 2001, Distin has been a mainstay in the Premier league having also represented Man City, Portsmouth and current club Everton.

Of course, you're now wondering who Distin grabbed the title from. It's Dutchman George Boateng, a player who could be described as one of the first foreign Premier League regulars. Beginning his career in his native Holland, Boateng featured in 384 English top-flight matches during spells with Coventry City, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Hull.

With his final Premier League appearance coming in 2010, Boateng is impressed that his record has finally been broken.

"I'm very proud of the record" he said. "It is a big achievement and Sylvain has done well. It would be difficult record for a striker to beat but perhaps it is easier for a defender like Distin. He has been in England for 11 years now which is a long time. "

Despite not knowing of his record until he was informed about it a year ago, Boateng hasn't been short of offers from players hoping to take his mantle.

"A few of my fellow countrymen, Robin Van Persie and Nigel De Jong, had threatened to take my record away from me!" he joked.

Whilst the record no longer belongs to Boateng, he shouldn't be worried by Van Persie and De Jong's claims. Having arrived in England in 2004, RVP has only managed just over 200 league appearances in both the red of Arsenal and Manchester United; however, had it not been for injury setbacks at The Emirates, Van Persie would surely have a larger appearance count. Meanwhile, De Jong's task looks even more difficult. The midfielder left the Premier League and Man City for Serie A's AC Milan last summer.

Boateng says that to play so many games wasn't easy and that at the time, he didn't really take into account how many appearances he was amassing.

"Physically it's not easy as a midfielder with lots of tackles and battles going on. You can only enjoy things for an hour or so after the game because as soon as you are home you are focusing on the next match."

When he first received the call from Coventry City manager Gordon Strachan in 1997, Boateng never envisaged he would stay in England for so long. He experienced incredible homesickness during the first few months of his Sky Blues career.

"I always made decisions based on how it would further my career" he said talking of Gordon Strachan's offer.  "So I moved to England in 1997 with my then girlfriend who is now my wife. However I was very homesick. I was allowed 20 free flights home and I think I used them all during the first three months! It was hard to settle as I didn't know anybody, didn't know my neighbours, didn't even know where the supermarkets where."

Despite finding it hard to settle, Boateng's love of the English game perhaps made his initial stay a little easier.

"The fans, the atmosphere and the passion of the Premier League attracted me. Supporters in England even cheer a corner. In other countries, a corner is just a formality of the game." He laughed. "It amazed me how long I stayed in England for, let alone the Premier League."

Having played in over 300 Premier League games it must be difficult to pick out one memorable game. However there is one that sticks clearly in George's mind from April 2000.

"The game that always stays with me is when I was playing for Aston Villa and we were losing at half time to Spurs at White Hart Lane." reflected Boateng, now 37. "We expected John Gregory (the then Aston Villa boss) to be mad at us but he came in and was very calm - a true gentleman. He just said to us 'Guys look, go out there and do me a favour. Score a goal and then win the game.'"

George remembers players looking at each other in the dressing room, baffled at how relaxed Gregory had been; however the gaffers' half-time team-talk worked wonders.

"We scored. Then we equalised. We then went on to win the game 4-2 and three of the goals made it on to Match of the Days 'Goal of the Month' competition."

That days' Villa squad included players such as Gareth Barry, Ugo Ehiogu and Benito Carbone. Such a comeback showed the great spirit in the Villa camp at that time.

"Sometimes things look impossible but with a little bit of faith passed on from the manager we believed we could win."

With Villa currently struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table, fans will be hoping that manager Paul Lambert can instil the same sort of belief into the current crop of players. The Villains are going through a tricky time but Boateng feels that the club are a 'sleeping giant who maybe need a little more finance'.

That's the view Boateng takes of his other former clubs too. Hull City, Middlesbrough and Coventry are all playing in a lesser division than they were when Boateng was a part of their squad. He is hoping that the club's fortunes will turn around soon.

"It is each club to their own." He said. "Hull and Coventry need local investment. A local businessman to invest in them, like Steve Gibson, who is well appreciated at Middlesbrough. You hear fans referring to the good old days when I played but I want them to talk about the good days now."

Back to the appearance feat and Boateng thinks that Distin 'will walk away with record' as the Premier League is 'getting harder and more physical.'

Despite Boateng's positive comments, Distin shouldn't be too confident of holding on to the award; after a short spell at Championship side Nottingham Forest last year, Boateng is keen to play for another season.

"I'd like to continue playing. I have had offers but they have not been to my liking."

Whilst he's still looking for a club to join this season, Boateng, who enjoyed a season at Greek club Skoda Xanthi in 2010, has planned for the future and has completed both his B and A coaching badges.

"I am currently looking for a job in this country, coaching youth players or reserves. I'd also like to be an assistant manager in the Premier League and pass on my experience to other players."

In the meantime, whilst looking for a new club, Boateng will continue his media work with Sky Sports, Talksport and Al-Jazeera.

With so much currently going on for Boateng, perhaps Distin's record is safe afterall.

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