• Sáb. Jul 13th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

On Friday night, Germany midfielder Toni Kroos will face Spain in the European Championship quarter-final — and it could be his final game in professional football.

The 34-year-old Kroos said in May that he would hang up his old-school white boots this summer. A few weeks later, he won a fifth Champions League trophy with Real Madrid at Wembley Stadium. Now he is starring for his country on home soil at Euro 2024.

He could hardly have planned a more fitting retirement. So why, when he is at the top of his game, is Kroos stepping aside this summer?



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Kroos said well in advance that he would finish on his terms.

A stubborn and unconventional character who has always liked to do things his way, he was never going to emulate his former Madrid team-mates Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo by playing into his late thirties.

Instead, his plan was always to go out at the very top. He initially retired from international football in 2021 after experiencing a series of disappointments with Germany, allowing him to focus on a final few years with Madrid.

He might even have retired altogether in the summer of 2023, but eventually agreed to stay another season at the Santiago Bernabeu. Then he accepted a call from Germany manager Julian Nagelsmann — only two years his senior — to return for this summer’s Euros.

Kroos helped Madrid win the Champions League last season (Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Speaking to the German magazine Kicker last month, Kroos said he knew that many players tried to play for as long as possible but that his view was different.

“I simply want to be remembered as the 34-year-old Toni Kroos who played his best season for Real at the end,” he said. “I’ve achieved that. I take it as a compliment that many people think the timing is too early.”

Even if there was little doubt about Kroos’ precocious natural talent as a teenager, he steered his career in unexpected and distinctive directions from the start.

After spells with local clubs Greifswalder and Hansa Rostock, he agreed a move to Germany’s biggest club Bayern Munich aged 16. He had won the Golden Ball for best player at the 2006 Under-17 European Championship and won the same award at the Under-17 World Cup a year later.

But after being born and raised in Germany’s relatively remote north-east region, Kroos didn’t fit in at the Bavarian club at first. When he returned after a successful 18 months on loan at Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes was unsure how to best use Kroos’ skills. Homegrown hero Bastian Schweinsteiger was still the main man in midfield and injury meant Kroos missed the 2013 Champions League final win against Borussia Dortmund.

There was similar uncertainty with the national team. Germany Manager Joachim Low brought a 20-year-old Kroos to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, then used him sparingly off the bench. For Euro 2012, Low preferred the more physical midfield duo of Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, with Mesut Ozil first-choice at No 10. Kroos’ only start was in the semi-final that Germany lost to Italy.

The midfielder was part of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning side (Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Many German fans and pundits — including influential ex-players — felt that Kroos’ use of possession was too slow and methodical and did not help decide games. He was not an all-action, box-to-box midfielder in the mould of greats Lothar Matthaus, Stefan Effenberg or Michael Ballack. Nor was he a floating No 10 playmaker in the line of Thomas Hassler, Mehmet Scholl or Ozil.

But Kroos thrived when Pep Guardiola arrived at Bayern in the summer of 2013 and placed him in a deeper role, giving him more influence. Now Bayern built moves slowly and painstakingly — not in the traditional, direct German approach — and Kroos was happier than ever on the pitch.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Low was clever enough to make use of Guardiola’s influence. Fielded as a deep playmaker, Kroos played 689 of 690 minutes as Germany won the trophy. He registered two assists in the opening 4-0 win against Portugal, provided the free kick for Mats Hummel’s winning header in the quarter-final against France and then scored two and made one in the 7-1 semi-final hammering of Brazil. His control and precision were key in the 1-0 win against Argentina in the final.

Still just 24, Kroos was about to enter the peak of his career — but another surprise decision was coming.

Within weeks of helping Germany become world champions for the fourth time in their history, Kroos left the country. Annoyed that Bayern’s hierarchy had offered a bigger contract to international team-mate Mario Gotze, he forced through a cut-price €25million (£21m; $27m) move to Madrid.

Kroos was immediately more comfortable in the Spanish capital, with coaches Carlo Ancelotti and then Zinedine Zidane trusting him with the reins of the team. The superbly balanced midfield of Kroos, Casemiro and Modric steered Madrid to a record three straight Champions League titles under Zidane from 2016-2018.

Internationally, problems were looming again. Kroos played every minute of Germany’s Euro 2016 campaign in France, where they lost 2-0 to the hosts in the semi-final. The 2018 World Cup was a disaster — although Kroos scored a fine 95th-minute free-kick winner against Sweden, defeats to Mexico and South Korea meant they exited at the group stage for the first time in 80 years.

The delayed Euro 2020 tournament brought more failure, with Kroos and Co eliminated by England in the last 16. Kroos’ central role was used by some influential figures as a sign that German football had taken a wrong turn.

Kroos initially retired from international football after Germany’s Euro 2020 exit to England (Frank Augstein/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“Kroos’ way of playing is completely done,” the former Germany and Bayern striker Uli Hoeness said that summer. “He no longer fits with today’s football.”

Matthaus, the 1990 World Cup-winning midfielder, agreed: “I’ve nothing against Toni Kroos, but I don’t agree with how he plays. When he passes the ball, there is hardly any gain in territory and the rhythm slows.”



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That criticism played a big role in Kroos’ decision to retire from international football in 2021 aged 31. If he was not wanted by his country, it wasn’t a problem — he was happy to focus on his club.

But it had not been all plain sailing at Madrid either. In the 2018-19 season, Kroos’ form dipped and he was even whistled at the Bernabeu. The press rumours were that Madrid wanted to sell him, but the club ended up extending his contract instead.

In an interview with The Athletic the following year, Kroos said he would finish his career at Madrid. The idea of playing for a smaller team, or at a less competitive level, never appealed. Nor did the idea of following his former team-mates Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to play in the Saudi Pro League.



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“They talk about ambition, but it’s all about money,” Kroos told Sports Illustrated last year. “In the end, that’s a decision for money, and against football.”

Kroos has also said the match calendar places too many demands on top players and has openly criticised governing bodies UEFA and FIFA. Spending more time with his wife and three young children was more important to him than constant travel, training and games.

So he was clear that he would stop playing once he felt he could no longer contribute at the very top. He weighed up his options last season as he watched the progress of young midfielders Aurelien Tchouameni, Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga. His final decision to retire was made in April, but he did not tell club president Florentino Perez or Ancelotti, both of whom wanted him to continue for at least another season at Madrid.

That month, Kroos returned to Munich with Madrid for a Champions League semi-final first leg against Bayern. The fans who had not forgiven him for taking on the club hierarchy a decade earlier whistled him throughout. He responded with one of the great all-time individual midfield displays, capped with a perfectly timed and weighted assist for Vinicius Junior’s opening goal.

That led to another Champions League final against another German club, Dortmund. In the build-up, Kroos publicly confirmed his decision to retire this summer. Then he provided the key moment, taking the corner that Dani Carvajal headed in to put Madrid ahead with 20 minutes remaining. It ended 2-0, with Kroos picking up a fifth Champions League winners’ medal with Madrid and a sixth in all — the joint-most with Paco Gento, Carvajal, Luka Modric and Nacho.

Kroos will not be leaving the city of Madrid anytime soon. “I’ve found in Madrid a home outside Germany,” he said in May. “I’m very comfortable here, many people love me and make me happy.”

A branch of the Toni Kroos Academy recently opened in the Spanish capital’s upmarket suburbs, near the mansion where he lives with his family. He has said he will continue the podcast he records with his brother, Felix, and will develop an ‘Icon League’ indoor football project — similar to the former Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique’s Kings League.

The idea to return with Germany had started with Nagelsmann, a younger coach from the Guardiola ‘school’ who also left Bayern last year after failing to fit their ideals.

“Julian reached out to me and explained his vision for the national team,” Kroos told the magazine FourFourTwo last month. “We spoke for a very long time about his ideas and philosophies. He also asked me for mine. It was clear to us that those ideas aligned.”

Not everyone in Germany was convinced. Some pundits still felt those ideas and philosophies weren’t right for the national team. Before the tournament, captain Ilkay Gundogan was asked about some fans disparagingly referring to Kroos as ‘Querpass Toni’ — Sideways Toni. Gundogan laughed it off and praised his team-mate — perhaps not surprisingly given he is another midfielder not in the typical ‘German’ mould whose game developed under Guardiola.

Kroos’ performance against Scotland in the tournament’s opening game was a prime example of how a player can control a game using brain, not brawn. He completed 100 passes of a possible 101 and dismantled Scotland with the intelligence and accuracy of his distribution as Germany ran out 5-1 winners.

His controlled and dominant performances throughout the Euros have nixed the idea of ‘Querpass Toni’.

Kroos is top for total passes completed (419) and short passes made (202) in Germany, and he’s also top for total pass distance (7,137 yards), progressive passing distance (3,006 yards) and passes into the final third (68), and is second for key passes (13).

The progressive distance metric is the most striking — how far up the pitch his passes have moved the team. Most other players leading this category are goalkeepers and defenders who clear the ball long. After Kroos’ 770.8 yards per 90 minutes, the next midfielder on the list is his club team-mate Tchouameni for France with 477.2, then Denmark’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (310.8), Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka (294.5) and England’s Declan Rice (265.1).

Kroos is getting on the ball more than anyone else at this tournament but is also using it to damage rival teams. He often drops deep to avoid pressing opponents (see graphic below), but this also allows him to find space to quickly feed team-mates in more dangerous positions. He rarely breaks into the penalty area himself — but he doesn’t have to. It is not how traditional German midfielders used to play, but it is tremendously successful in modern football.

The German public have embraced the Kroos farewell tour. At stadiums around the country, his name features on more replica jerseys than any other. Chants of “Toni, Toni, Toni!” erupt whenever he comes over to take a corner.

That acclaim should be normal for the most decorated player in German history. He has won 34 trophies for club and country over his career — the only title missing is the European Championship. Given how the last few months have played out, it would be no surprise if he guided Germany past Spain on Friday and on to win the final in Berlin on July 14.

Despite his ability and distinguished career, Kroos has only once been named German footballer of the year (in 2018). Speaking to Kicker last month, he was asked about critics who may have been jealous of him.

“They have an opinion,” he replied. “I created facts.”



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Additional reporting: Seb Stafford-Bloor, Mario Cortegana

(Top photo: PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images))

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