Welcome to World Class: Toni Kroos

Ali Rampling
Dec 17, 2020, 2:00 PM GMT
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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 in order to give his peers a chance.

It would sometimes be fairer if that niche law adaptation could be put in place in the professional game too.

Kroos has been at the very heart of three of the most successful club and international sides of the last decade. His consistency and ruthless winning mentality leave others trailing in his wake.

The dynamic midfielder's youth was a bizarre reversal of the professional career he has forged out. It was littered with individual accolades, but when it came to major honours, his teams fell just short. The roles have flipped in later life, with the Real Madrid midfielder now a winning machine, hoovering up domestic honour after domestic honour.

However, the individual awards have been less forthcoming. Kroos is a man rarely in the limelight and rarely on the receiving end of clamour or attention. He is just consistently, understatedly, relentlessly brilliant season after season.

The campaign kicks off, he plays, he wins, he collects a winner's medal or three, a new season commences and the cycle continues.

Kross has four Champions League winners medals
Kross has four Champions League winners medals | VI-Images/Getty Images

But for a man renowned for not making a fuss, Kroos didn't half burst onto the scene.

He scooped the Golden Player award at the 2006 UEFA Under-17 European Championships (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 Golden Ball at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup the following year but once again his side fell just short, with his Golden Ball only accompanied by a bronze medal.

This was enough to warrant a call up to the Bayern Munich senior team; the German made his debut in September 2007, aged 17 years and 256 days old, making him the youngest player in the club's history.

But breaking a record for the biggest club in Germany wasn't quite enough for Kroos, and he went on to lay on two assists for Miroslav Klose within 18 minutes of entering the fray.

Kroos set up Klose twice on his debut
Kroos set up Klose twice on his debut | OLIVER LANG/Getty Images

A goal and an assist in the final nine minutes followed the next month on his UEFA Cup debut, rescuing a 3-2 win for Bayern against Red Star Belgrade - the teenager put on free kick duty despite his tender age.

Bayern stormed to the league title that season and Kroos earned himself a winners medal at the age of 18 - a feeling he would become all too accustomed to.

But Bayern's already glittering midfield made another addition in 2008 in Tim Borowski, and Kroos moved to Bayer Leverkusen on an 18-month loan. This was so successful, by the time the loan concluded, Kroos had earned his maiden senior international call up and was included in Germany's 2010 World Cup squad. A World Cup medal came home in his hand luggage - but again, the colour was bronze.

"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."

Pep Guardiola

The following summer, Jupp Heynckes arrived at Bayern. A penalty shootout defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final ensured his maiden season ended empty handed. 12 months later, Bayern stormed to the treble. Kroos' medal collection began to gather momentum.

Heynckes deployed a midfield three, with Kroos operating alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger and with Philipp Lahm sitting behind them. Here, he began to flourish as the all-rounder that we are accustomed to seeing today, providing nine goals and eight assists in one of the greatest teams in Bayern's 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 was instrumental in Germany's 2014 World Cup win
Kroos was instrumental in Germany's 2014 World Cup win | Martin Rose/Getty Images

Kroos and Germany enjoyed a stunning tournament, but it is their 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semi finals that the 2014 competition is best remembered for. It is one of football's most unbelievable, shocking and iconic victories.

And Kroos was at the heart of it.

His all conquering performance in Belo Horizonte sums up everything that is superb about him. He was absolutely everywhere; breaking up play, laying opportunities on for his teammates with defence splitting passes and finding the net from the edge of the box.

This is Kroos' brilliance; his extraordinary fitness and ability to get about the pitch is matched by his supreme technique and finesse. He has the raw athleticism of Michael Phelps and the intelligence and grace of Roger Federer. And a trophy cabinet to rival the pair of them.

"Kroos is a wonderful player. He’s doing everything right: the pace in his passes is great and he sees everything. It’s nearly perfect."

Johan Cruyff

The Brazilians wiped away their tears and nicknamed Kroos O Garçom (the waiter) due to the exquisite service he provided his teammates. Germany went on to lift the World Cup, Kroos feeding Andre Schurrle in the build up to Mario Gotze's decisive goal in the final against Argentina. Another winner's medal for the collection.

He moved to Real Madrid that summer for just €25m - a move overshadowed by 2014's man of the moment James Rodriguez also joining the club in a €80m deal. A crowd of 45,000 showed up to Rodriguez's presentation - 8,000 were present for Kroos.

Understated and underrated.

Kroos would go on to outshine and outlast Rodriguez at the Bernabeu.

At Real, Kroos is at his best with Zinedine Zidane at the helm. In a ball playing midfield 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 surpassing a 90% pass completion rate each year. But it is what he does with possession that really counts. He takes opponents out of the game, he breaks the lines and he recycles the ball. Kroos is brave yet calculated.

The 30-year-old is consistently the man for the big occasion. He was there for Bayern's treble winning campaign, Germany's esteemed World Cup success and Real's record-breaking trio of Champions League triumphs. The pressure does not get to Kroos no matter how big the stage. He simply wins and wins again.

Seriously Toni, take off your shoes, it's not fair on everybody else.

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