Toni Kroos’ perfectly-timed retirement

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After another Toni Kroos midfield masterclass in the Madrid derby back in February, Isco begged his former team-mate not to retire.

Toni Kroos’ perfectly-timed retirement

After another Toni Kroos midfield masterclass in the Madrid derby back in February, Isco begged his former team-mate not to retire. “Let us enjoy watching you play for two or three more years,” the Spaniard wrote on Kroos’ post-match post on Instagram.

Unfortunately for Isco, his plea fell on deaf ears. Kroos confirmed the news that all Real Madrid fans had been dreading in May, when he revealed that he would be retiring from football after Euro 2024.

“I am happy and proud that, in my mind, I found the right timing for my decision and that I could choose it on my own,” he explained. “My ambition was always to finish my career at the peak of my performance level.”

He’s done exactly that, with Kroos now bringing the curtain down on his career after one of his finest seasons, albeit one that ended with heartbreak at Euro 2024 as hosts Germany lost to Spain in the quarter-finals.

One that got away – for both Bayern & United!

Kroos was always a curious case in that he wasn’t always given the credit he deserved. He certainly felt underappreciated at Bayern Munich, which is why he decided to leave the club in the summer of 2014 after the Bavarians rather ridiculously refused to pay him the same amount of money as Mario Gotze. It was a disastrous decision and one the fans have never got over.

Kroos was given a hostile reception on his final appearance at the Allianz Arena in May. He responded by splitting open their defence with a stunning pass that Vinicius Jr slotted home.

Spare a thought, too, for Manchester United fans. After meeting with David Moyes, Kroos agreed to move to Old Trafford, only for the transfer to collapse after the Scot’s shock sacking before the end of the 2013-14 campaign, as his replacement, Louis van Gaal, wasn’t keen on Kroos.

However, with the midfielder still trying to figure out his next move as Germany’s World Cup campaign got under way in Brazil, Kroos received a call from Carlo Ancelotti that paved the way for a move to Real Madrid.

It was, as Kroos later admitted, a transfer that “changed my life; my life as a footballer – but especially my life as a person. It was the start of a new chapter at the biggest club in the world.” And it concluded with the happiest of endings.

Mix of quality and mentality

On June 1, Kroos played his final game for Madrid and provided the assist for Dani Carvajal’s crucial opening goal in a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley. It was Kroos’ fifth European Cup win with Madrid, and his sixth triumph overall – no player in history has managed more.

Asked afterwards how Los Blancos had achieved such a remarkable era of success, Kroos simply replied, “It’s a mix of quality and mentality.” He may as well have been talking about himself.

Always elegant and efficient

Things didn’t always run smoothly, of course. They rarely do at Madrid, and there were times when he was targeted by the Santiago Bernabeu boo boys, most notably during a trophy-less 2018-19 season. But we’re talking about a player that says that he doesn’t feel pressure; that he never gets nervous. And what reason do we have to doubt him, in fairness? Kroos’ composure is not normal.

Jamal Musiala has admitted to being taken aback by just how calm Kroos is on the ball, while the great Zinedine Zidane, one of the most gifted footballers the game has ever seen, says he used to just enjoy watching the German train.

“They’re exceptional sessions,” the former Madrid coach enthused. “And I’m not saying it for the sake of it – it’s true. I’ve never seen him lose the ball. His game is always elegant and efficient. He never has a bad day.”

Zidane also argued that Kroos’ leadership qualities were also grossly undervalued for the majority of his career simply because he’s a rather humble and unassuming character.

“Toni is certainly a very quiet and reserved boy, but when he speaks, he speaks to anyone – his coach, managers, team-mates – and he does not stop,” the iconic No.10 told Real France. “I have seen many discussions in which his participation has ended up being key.”

Bravest of them all

However, while Zidane saw Kroos’ “serenity” as a virtue, some pundits in Germany felt it was a flaw. There was, at times, particularly in and around a disappointing Euro 2016 semi-final exit for Germany, a perception that Kroos was too controlled – and too cautious. Some even derogatorily referred to him as ‘Querpass Toni’ (‘Sideways Toni’) because of his patient passing.

It was a label that mystified former Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola. “Many times, when things go badly, we tend to blame the players that seem calmer or more technical,” he pointed out. “But these players are the bravest, the ones that have the most courage.

“The players that shout the most are those that hide when things go badly. Toni is the opposite: he’s the bravest of them all in the most difficult moments.”

The final international tournament of Kroos’ career was perfect case in point.

Kroos’ way of playing is completely finished

Kroos was made the scapegoat for Germany’s embarrassingly lame loss to England in the last 16 of Euro 2020, as Uli Hoeness claimed that Kroos’ style of play was “outdated”. “It has to be said that Kroos doesn’t fit in in the modern game with his horizontal passes,” the former Bayern president told Sport1. “The game is now played vertically. Players take the ball and carry it forward with speed.

“We were down 1-0 in the last quarter of an hour [against England] and Kroos stopped going past the halfway line. His way of playing is completely finished. He played sideways, played sideways again, and then the opponent’s defence were able to get organised.”

Bayern legend Lothar Matthaus also stuck the boot in. “Kroos is no longer international-class,” the legendary midfielder told Kicker. “Personally, I have nothing against Toni Kroos, but I don’t agree with the way he plays.

“At the Euros, you saw that it’s not just about the speed of the player, but also that of the ball. He actually does that quite well with one or two touches, but when he passes the ball, he loses speed again because there is hardly any gain in space and the pace is taken off.”

Kroos made an absolute mockery of such comments at Euro 2024.

Xavi’s heir

After Switzerland’s surprisingly facile 2-0 win over Italy, it was revealed that Granit Xhaka had made 25 line-breaking passes. It was a seriously impressive statistic and yet nothing compared to the revelation that Kroos hadn’t just bettered that tally during the group stages, he’d done so in all three of Germany’s games.

Basically, there was no more progressive passer of the ball at the Euros, with Kroos breaking one distribution record after another. What’s more, going into the quarter-finals, he ranked first for successful passes into the final third (113), and second for chances created, with 13 – as many as Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden combined.

Kroos’ international career may not have ended in the same fairy-tale fashion as that of his club, but it was still a triumphant return, a glorious vindication of not only his decision to come out of retirement for one last tournament, but also his style of play. He has shown exactly why Xavi anointed him his heir and why Juan Roman Riquelme labelled him the Roger Federer of football. “He can play a match, the Argentine said, “and not even need to shower afterward”. Quite the compliment coming from one of the most nonchalantly brilliant midfielders the game has ever seen.

Of course, it’s been such a pleasure to watch Kroos play that it’s hard not to echo Isco and plead with him to continue, and Ancelotti has already said that if the German changes his mind about quitting, there’ll still be room for him at Madrid next season.

However, the World Cup winner said that he wanted “to be remembered as the 34-year-old Toni Kroos who played his best season for Real at the end” and that he takes it “a compliment that many people think the timing is too early”.

In that sense, his retirement isn’t premature at all. It’s actually perfect. Just like nearly every single pass he ever played.