UEFA Champions League final: Whatever happens at Wembley, Real Madrid's Toni Kroos is going out at his peak | Football News - Hindustan Times
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UEFA Champions League final: Whatever happens at Wembley, Real Madrid's Toni Kroos is going out at his peak

ByDhiman Sarkar, Kolkata
May 30, 2024 08:57 PM IST

He is one of the reasons why Real are in the Champions League final and only four players at the club have more minutes this season.

Toni Kroos wouldn’t take the bait. Germany had won the World Cup and in a calm, understated manner he answered questions on the final and the 2014 campaign. But posers about his future were stalled with Kroos saying this was not the time. The move to Real was announced four days later, on June 17.

Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos gestures as he attends a training session at the Santiago Bernabeu(AFP)
Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos gestures as he attends a training session at the Santiago Bernabeu(AFP)

By now, it is well known that the deal had happened much before Mario Götze’s injury-time strike ended Germany’s 24-year wait for a World Cup. Reportedly unhappy at what Bayern Munich were paying him, Kroos had agreed to a move which cost Real Madrid a mere €25m.

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After a possible 465 appearances, 22 trophies and “10 unforgettable years”, that journey will end in Wembley on Saturday because Kroos thinks the time is right. “My ambition was always to finish my career at the peak of my performance level,” he said in his farewell message.

Irrespective of how the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund goes, it would be difficult to dispute that. Against Real Betis, in his last home game for Real, Kroos completed 59 out of his 60 first-half passes. He ended as La Liga champions and with a passing accuracy of 94.5%. Never in the past five seasons did it go below 93.5%. He played 3094 minutes in all competitions. Only four played more and none is 34.

If Real are in contention for a record-extending 15th European title and Kroos a record-equalling sixth (along with Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal and Nacho, he could join former Real legend Paco Gento), it is because only he saw space to thread a pass to Vinicius Jr in Munich. Nobody wanted him to go –Bernabeu unfurled a banner urging the referee to not blow the final whistle – which is exactly why he is leaving. You may argue about a lot of things with a lot of people but you don’t question Kroos’ timing or idea of space. “Never seen him lose the ball,” Zinedine Zidane has said.

Nor have a bad hair day, literally. Kroos wears his hair differently now from 2014 but not a strand looked out of place in the picture after the game against Betis where he is holding his son, eyes possibly glistening, the stare fixed into middle distance. Like it was when he spoke to the world media in the auditorium deep inside Maracana.

A perfect World Cup, where he and Mats Hummels – rivals on Saturday – had combined to knock France out, was nearly ruined by an ill-judged back header for Manuel Neuer but Gonzalo Higuain missed and Kroos breathed. And continued playing like that had never happened.

If Kroos makes football look easy it is because he has worked hard. There is a UEFA video where in a No.10 Germany shirt, Kroos is galloping down the left, cutting in, flicking his leg over the ball like Ronaldinho would before shooting into the top corner. That was in the 2006 under-17 Euros. Kroos was adjudged player of the tournament. He was that in the under-17 World Cup next year as well.

So, it fit that for club and country, Kroos would be a playmaker, one who would start his career at Bayern aged 17 years and 265 days with two assists. But at Real Madrid, Kroos had to change. Real had attacking players so Carlo Ancelotti felt the centre of the midfield was the right fit. Like getting Jude Bellingham to play in a amore advanced role this term, this was a tweak by Ancelotti that fetched rich rewards.

When Zidane took over, Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric formed a midfield triangle that helped make Real Madrid serial Champions League winners.

But it also meant Kroos had to work on his defending. He may not be like Casemiro in that department but early in the semi-final in Munich, Kroos made an interception that prevented Real from being caught up high on the pitch. And he did keep a close watch on Kevin de Bruyne in the quarter-final.

Now Kroos operates from an even deeper position, usually near where the left-back is. Playing from deep also makes it harder to track him and such is his range of passes that Kroos can find teammates in any area of the pitch. “You could cover his eyes with your hands, and he would still tell you that on the right, 50 metres away, is Thomas Müller and on the left is Mesut Özil, 25 metres away,” former Germany player Stefan Reinartz is quoted as saying by uefa.com. Replace that with Vinicius Jr and maybe Federico Valverde and you won’t be wrong years later.

“The Bernabeu gave him the farewell he deserved,” Ancelotti said. Now, there is only one thought, Kroos has said: a 15th Champions League title.

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