11. Toni Kroos
Do you believe in magic? I had stopped believing, until a few years ago.
It was the semifinal of the 2014 WC and that day football talked to me in a way I hadn’t felt for years. 8 years, to be precise; the day Zinedine Zidane retired.
Toni Kroos showed me that football, even in its modern preference of speed and rush, could still be poetry. Delicate, smooth and hard-hitting as ever.
Many changes came for the young German midfielder – namely, he switched Bayern Munich for Real Madrid and played in every position in midfield – but one thing hasn’t changed; his style.
Deep lying playmaker, an interior down the left, or in a more advanced role reminiscent of his time at Bayern, you simply know when Kroos is playing. He’s not one to make a lot of noise though; his most spectacular gestures come in the form of subtleties.
Holding onto the ball when pressed by four opponents; scoring from 25 meters out without lifting the ball off the grass; finding that one teammate nobody noticed making a perfect run – I’ve never, ever in my life seen a player so calm, so aware of his surroundings.
It’s almost scary, his composure and understanding of the game are what make his every touch stand out. You can always trust him to make the right decision, and he does everything barely perfect without ever breaking a sweat.
With the Spanish capital team, he’s now a two-times FIFA Club World Cup winner, UEFA Super Cup, La Liga and Champions League winner, with another UCL final coming up in a few days.
Three years ago I called him a complete midfielder and hopefully a future legend. Today, I raise those compliments; he’s a legend and the best midfielder in the world.
There are many remarkable cards in Toni’s deck, but today we’re going to look at 4 aspects of his game that make him la crème de la crème.
One thing you notice right away when you watch Kroos play is that he knows where every other player on the pitch is, where the ball is, what his plan a, b and c would be if he got the ball at that particular moment. He’s aware of everything happening in his surroundings and he never really seems preoccupied or second-guessing himself. He doesn’t even look nervous for that matter.
This makes him the perfect outlet for his teammates to relieve pressure and re-focus the direction and pace of play. He’s there at the heart of the team acting as the engine that drives both Real Madrid and Germany’s National Team.
This ability to understand what’s happening and how to react at any given moment is also what opened up the possibility of Kroos playing on a deeper role when he arrived at Real Madrid.
Toni obviously doesn’t have the most impressive physique for a defensive midfielder, or the tackling, or marking ferocity you’d often need playing in that role for a world-class side. But the young german more than makes up for it with the fact that he rarely finds himself in those positions, he rarely makes a mistake.
Nowadays, Kroos plays as a left interior for Real’s three-man midfield, with Casemiro occupying his former role in a deeper position and Modric speeding things up in the right.
Undoubtedly, Kroos’ awareness and composure are a big reason why he’s one of the main playmakers and conductors for his club and national team, and also why he’s been able to showcase himself as a versatile player.
Toni scored back-to-back goals against Sevilla and Celta in the final sprint of La Liga. His goal against the latest, a cold-blooded sequence that included humiliating a defender and a tight first-post shot, was something out of those Goal! movies. Too good to be true, too superior. He didn’t even blink.
He was recently quoted saying “I’m never nervous. It’s just football, there’s no reason to be.”
If a sentence could sum up Toni Kroos’ approach about football, that quote would surely be it.
As I said above, Toni is absolutely fundamental in both of his sides for a productive circulation of the ball and to conduct the flow of a game. He’s the outlet, yes – but he’s perhaps more importantly a distributor.
When Toni gets the ball, he doesn’t really think twice. He’s scanned every scenario possible and goes on to execute it right away. He has a stunning passing range, but oddly enough his short passes are even more impressive than the long ones.
With those short passes he can disarm the opponent’s defense in a second and destroy any attempt at pressing to start building an attack. He connects and
He’ll swing the ball left and right acting as a repeated receiver until he decides it’s time to pick up the pace and go for the goal full force. This often happens in understanding with his two midfield teammates as they shape the whole attack with quick, precise passes; breaking the lines for their teammates further up to finish the job.
When you look at Toni’s passing and touches stats, you’ll find yourself doubting your eyes. It can’t be right, can it?
92% passing accuracy?
12 assists in La Liga (second best for the whole season)?
He has the precision and speed of a sniper’s bullet, and much like one, you don’t really see him coming…
…And that’s his biggest asset.
When you’re ever-present, you’ve got mapped out every inch of the pitch and you can send the ball anywhere at a moment’s notice, the result is actually pretty predictable.
You own the game.
You control what’s going on and you set the pace in attack, defense or transitions.
When you’re the engine of the team, you’re responsible not only for making the ball go around and picking the right team mate, but also to decide when and how to go all in and when to sit back. That’s what Toni Kroos does.
This is by no means an easy task – it’s actually one that holds great responsibility and has a fundamental incidence in the development and outcome of every match.
If you can’t control the pace when you have the ball, any successful advance may well be just luck, fortune. If you can’t decide how you’re going to proceed and pick what’s your approach, how can you really dominate or even respond?
Players like Toni Kroos allow the best teams in the world to get this tricky piece of the line-up puzzle just right – you know who’s going to regulate your pace and everyone is on the same wavelength.
On this particular season, which in my honest opinion is Toni’s best since arriving to the Spanish capital, he is easily a top five performer in a league winning and possibly Champions League winning campaign.
He set the pace of each game and the pace in each stage of the season for Zidane’s side, and when he’s on top of his game, so is Real Madrid.
Oh, the never-ending love story; Toni Kroos and set-pieces. He already was a set-piece specialist when he arrived to the spanish capital but he’s on another galaxy now compared to those days.
In Sergio Ramos, he’s found his perfect partner in crime. Those two have been a nightmare for the defences of top teams in crucial moments, more remarkably this season against Napoli when Los Blancos were struggling to keep up with Napoli’s direct approach.
Without it, Real Madrid surely wouldn’t be up for the title and this season would look a lot less successful.
With the perfect curvature and height in his crosses, they’re monsters that cannot be contained. A lot like Robben’s cut-inside goals, you know he’s going cross to find Sergio Ramos, Varane, Cristiano and company, but you can’t stop it.
Probably the best set-piece crosser in the world at the moment, when Toni Kroos steps up to cross the ball, you can’t help but stop and look in awe. He’s the best German player right now by a long shot and one of the finest world football has to offer.
Thank you, Toni.
You made me believe again.
Written by: Dervis Cordero/@DervisWrites