Toni Kroos turns 30 years old today.
And since he’s reached the crossroads upon which a player unofficially enters their post-prime years, what better time to appreciate the German’s contribution to football?
At this stage, Kroos is probably undervalued outside of Munich and Madrid; though some influential figures in Munich famously underestimated him in 2014…
While Luka Modric’s Ballon d’Or validated his stellar career in 2018, the Croatian’s midfield partner may have to wait until retirement before his understated brilliance is fully acknowledged — in the manner of Paul Scholes.
Kroos perhaps should have claimed a significant individual award the year Germany won the World Cup.
Lionel Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for his efforts in getting Argentina to the final in 2014.
Many clamoured in the name of justice for James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben or Thomas Muller, who all provided memorable tournament moments.
But what about Kroos?
Die Mannschaft’s passmaster was the top assist-provider in Brazil, evidence of the constant threat he supplied from set-pieces.
He scored two tournament goals too, both coming in the 7-1 demolition of the hosts — possibly the most famous game of the modern era.
Kroos is a master of control and his ability to orchestrate games was just as much of factor in Germany’s triumph as Muller’s space-interpreting, Philipp Lahm’s leadership, or Manuel Neuer’s sweep-keeping.
It says a lot that the understated midfielder was named Germany’s Player of the Year in 2014.
It’s Kroos’ mastery of the game’s subtler arts that have denied him the volume of headlines of which is his unquestionably worthy.
Casemiro recently revealed the German’s importance to Real Madrid.
Speaking ahead of a documentary on Kroos, the Brazilian said: “Real Madrid matches always go in Kroos’ rhythm.
“If Toni wants to play slowly, we play slowly. If he wants to to play quicker, we play quicker. We play in Kroos’ way.”
In this sense, Kroos fulfils the same role as Xavi occupied for Barcelona and Spain.
But whereas the Spaniard is arguably the game’s greatest metronome, Kroos is the best rhythm guitarist of his generation.
Shying away from the celebrity of a singer and the rock stardom of a drummer, Real’s No8 simply does his job with unerringly consistency.
Zinedine Zidane knows a thing or two about technical midfielders and he speaks highly of his player at all times.
“I’ve never seen him [Kroos] lose the ball,” the Frenchman told the same documentary makers.
“His game is always elegant and efficient. He never has a bad day.
“He loves football and always wants to play. For me, playing is the main thing. Winning, yes, but playing is the man thing and it’s like that for both of us.”
Zizou’s words ring true but there’s no denying Kroos is a natural winner.
He was a member of Bayern Munich’s treble-winning squad of 2013 before joining Real Madrid for a hat-trick of Champions League trophies.
The transfer was part-motivated by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s assessment of the midfielder’s status.
According Kroos’ former team-mate Stefan Reinartz, Bayern’s CEO told Kroos he was ‘not a world-class player’ when the German asked for a contract in line with Mario Gotze’s.
You only have to re-watch the knockout games of Real’s European triple between 2016 – 2018 to see Kroos is most definitely world-class.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s rampant goalscoring and Sergio Ramos’ box-office nature at both ends of the pitch may be the most emblematic elements of Los Blancos’ Champions League monopoly during those years.
But the way Kroos (in combination with Modic) turned the tide of momentum when needed and consolidated winning positions gave Real that sense of elite inevitability.
Much like Andres Iniesta, stats will never convey Kroos’ true quality.
Pep Guardiola recognises the worth of such players.
“Toni is very intelligent,” said told the documentary makers.
“Many times, when things go badly, we tend to blame the players that seem calmer or more technical. But these players are the bravest, the ones that have the most courage.
“Toni is the bravest of them all in the most difficult moments.”
Kroos’ unflappable calm, his aching cool, is his greatest asset.
The self-confessed anglophile (his love of Robbie Williams, Silverstone and darts is well-established) has been linked with a move to Man United, with Paul Pogba tipped to be heading in the opposite direction.
It’s unclear whether there is any truth to the rumours but it’s enough for more than a few of the Old Trafford faithful to cross their fingers.
United’s midfield hasn’t functioned effectively in years and it’s impossible to imagine Kroos failing to improve that department immeasurably, even in his 30s.
Kroos is too good to waste any time or effort on flashy five-second clips that are popular on Instagram.
He often goes unnoticed because he rarely puts a foot wrong and makes a complicated sport look deceptively easy.
Since it’s Kroos, it’s best to keep it simple: he’s one of the very best midfielders of his generation.