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“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
– Vince lombardi
At school, Toni Kroos was often forced to play without football boots during PE to give his classmates a chance.
Sometimes it would be fairer if this adaptation of the niche law could also be implemented in the professional game.
Kroos has been at the heart of three of the most successful clubs and internationals of the last decade. His consistency and ruthless winning mentality leave others behind him.
The dynamic midfielder’s youth was a strange change in the professional career he has forged. He was riddled with individual accolades, but when it came to great honors, his teams fell short. The roles have changed in later life, with the Real Madrid midfielder now a winning machine, aspiring to national honor after national honor.
However, the individual awards have been less forthcoming. Kroos is a man who is rarely the center of attention and rarely the recipient of the outcry or attention. It’s consistent, understated, and relentlessly brilliant season after season.
Start the campaign, play, win, collect a winner medal or three, a new season begins, and the cycle continues.
But for a man famous for not making a fuss, Kroos didn’t burst onto the scene half.
He was awarded the Gold Player award at the 2006 UEFA European Under-17 Championship (an accolade that has also been won by fellow greats Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas and Connor Wickham) as Germany finished fourth. He took home the Ballon d’Or at the FIFA U-17 World Cup the following year, but once again his team fell short, with his Ballon d’Or only accompanied by a bronze medal.
This was enough to justify a call to the senior team of Bayern Munich; the German made his debut in September 2007, aged 17 years and 256 days, making him the youngest player in the club’s history.
But breaking a record for Germany’s biggest club wasn’t enough for Kroos, and he went on to provide two assists for Miroslav Klose within 18 minutes of entering the fray.
A goal and an assist in the final nine minutes followed the following month in his UEFA Cup debut, salvaging Bayern’s 3-2 win against Red Star Belgrade: the teenager was placed on free kick service to despite his tender age.
Bayern broke into the league title that season and Kroos earned himself a winner’s medal at the age of 18, a sensation he would get too used to.
But Bayern’s already brilliant midfield made another addition in 2008 in Tim Borowski, and Kroos moved to Bayer Leverkusen on an 18-month loan. This was so successful that when the loan ended, Kroos had earned his first senior international call-up and was included in Germany’s selection for the 2010 World Cup. A World Cup medal came home in his carry-on luggage, but again, the color was bronze.
“The players who yell the most are the ones who hide when things go wrong. Toni is the opposite, he is the bravest of all in the most difficult moments.”
– Pep Guardiola
The following summer, Jupp Heynckes arrived at Bayern. A penalty shootout loss to Chelsea in the Champions League final ensured that their first season ended empty-handed. 12 months later, Bayern broke into the treble. Kroos’s medal collection began to gather momentum.
Heynckes deployed a three in the middle of the field, with Kroos operating alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger and with Philipp Lahm sitting behind them. Here, he began to flourish as the all-rounder we’re used to seeing today, providing nine goals and eight assists for one of the best teams in Bayern history.
In the summer of 2014, with another Bundesliga title in the bag, this time under Pep Guardiola, Kroos was deployed in a similar midfield trio alongside Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira for Germany at the World Cup.
Kroos and Germany enjoyed an impressive tournament, but it is their 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semifinals that is most reminiscent of the 2014 competition. It is one of the most incredible, shocking and iconic victories in football.
And Kroos was at the center of it all.
His all-conquering performance in Belo Horizonte sums up all that is magnificent about him. It was absolutely everywhere; breaking the game, opening opportunities for his teammates with the defense dividing passes and finding the net from the edge of the area.
This is the brilliance of Kroos; his extraordinary physical condition and ability to move on the field is combined with his supreme technique and finesse. He has the raw athleticism of Michael Phelps and the intelligence and grace of Roger Federer. And a trophy case to rival the two.
“Kroos is a wonderful player. He is doing everything right: the pace in his passing is great and he sees everything. He is almost perfect.”
– Johan cruyff
The Brazilians wiped away their tears and nicknamed Kroos Or Garçom (the waiter) for the exquisite service he provided to his colleagues. Germany went on to lift the World Cup, Kroos fed Andre Schurrle in preparation for Mario Gotze’s decisive goal in the final against Argentina. Another winning medal for the collection.
He moved to Real Madrid that summer for just € 25 million, a move overshadowed by 2014’s man of the moment James Rodríguez, who also joined the club in a € 80 million deal. A crowd of 45,000 attended Rodriguez’s presentation; 8,000 were present for Kroos.
Underrated and underrated.
Kroos would go on to eclipse and surpass Rodríguez at the Bernabéu.
At La Real, Kroos is at his best with Zinedine Zidane at the helm. On a ball playing in the center of the field three alongside Casemiro and Luka Modric, he has won a hat-trick of Champions League crowns and two La Liga titles.
His ruthlessly efficient passing accuracy is a theme every season, routinely topping a 90% pass completion rate each year. But it’s what you do with possession that really counts. Take the opponents out of the game, break the lines and recycle the ball. Kroos is brave but calculated.
The 30-year-old is always the man for the big occasion. He was there for Bayern’s triplet campaign, Germany’s esteemed World Cup success and Real Madrid’s record-breaking trio of Champions League wins. The pressure does not reach Kroos no matter how big the stage is. Just win and win again.
Seriously Toni, take off your shoes, it’s not fair to others.