COLUMN: Irreplaceable, the internal ticking clock of Toni Kroos and his story at Real Madrid

The tears are still drying, but the mourning will not stop soon. For many fans, it’s shocking news: Toni Kroos will leave at the end of the season.

Kroos is not only a great midfielder – he is a great legend. Just ten years ago, the German midfielder signed for Real Madrid, and it’s been a decade, as for the ages. When parents hark back to the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties, Real Madrid fans will hark back to the Kroos years. Alongside Luka Modric, the German legend created history. The three champions leagues under Zinedine Zidane, the epic victories under Carlo Ancelotti, and this season’s league victory despite a decimated backline, balanced on the tip of his toe. But also the years of struggle, not that they were many, when fans doubted his continuity as age caught up with his legs…

If there is anything Kroos has proved throughout the years, is that he will always be there. Somewhere in the spirits, his ghost will continue to inspire generations. When many rushed, when many ran, Kroos stood still. He knew what he was about to do before anyone did. He oversaw multiple generations, setting Cristiano Ronaldo loose behind the defence, shepherding rise of Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo Goes. The accuracy of his passes never faded away, and have always been a source of worry for opponents. Kroos always seemed to be ahead of everyone else, always on schedule, as if he could freeze time itself.

Untimely, eternal. It’s tough to find the perfect adjective for Madrid’s best midfielder. He always maintained that he wanted to end on a high note. Many players tend to overstay, that’s the norm, ending up as the targets of repeated criticisms; but Toni is different. He was not expected to play the Euros with Germany, understanding that the time for a younger generation had come. Yet ex-Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann, just two years older than Kroos, convinced him to join for a last dance.

Kroos will once again play as a half-manager, instructing his younger peers, shining in his patience, and ignoring all velocity around him. There are not many players that treat the ball better than Toni Kroos – and yet, his passing accuracy is taken for granted. Fans have become accustomed to 90%+ accuracy figures, game after game. It never mattered what game it was, which year, or who his peers were: Kroos always found a way. If everything changed around him, he remained loyal – to Real Madrid and himself.

There is no doubt that Kroos leaves the club in good hands – Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelien Tchouameni, perhaps even the glimmering Arda Guler, are brilliant. But in many ways, his departure will accelerate many changes at the club, and never will any of them replace the German. Kroos is an all-timer, a gift from Zeus himself; elevated to the level of the greatest midfielders of all time. His life contains little drama, always remaining respectful.

Jude Bellingham has made it look easy this season, but it shouldn’t be underestimated that when the Santiago Bernabeu was loudest, be it whistles or roars, Kroos looked up to find his man, but no further, despite all the noise around him. Even now, when so many younger players are ready to take over, Kroos always found a way to break into the XI. But now is the time to turn the page, time to lead a different life – because even if his loss would forever have been untimely for Real Madrid, his time has called upon him.

Who will regulate the tempo in the ranks of Los Blancos is a question many avoided asking for a long time – because nobody has the answer? For ten years, Kroos has set counter-attacks into motion, when he perfectly timed his through-ball to his teammates. Yes, Bellingham just arrived, but two players are needed to perform what Toni Kroos did by himself. Nobody regulates the tempo, nobody else could even dream of his accuracy throughout the years. Consistency is probably one of the best words to describe him – independent of what happened around him, he dropped the 8/10 performances without dropping sweat.

For years, he helped Casemiro hide his deficiencies from the wider public. Since the Brazilian has left the club, so often cast as the battling presence in that Real Madrid midfield, there is nobody to shield him like his knight in shining armour. Without taking shots at Casemiro, his limitations seem evident now, and yet that’s Kroos’ credit that Manchester United did not see them.

His last fight, will be for one of the few things he hasn’t won – the Euros. Nobody knows who will win, England and France part as favourites, but in front of a home crowd Germany could surprise many. With the likes of Julian Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan accompanying Kroos.

By now the news has made it to all four corners of the globe; Kroos is a player that will remain engraved in people’s memories. While he is performative, the aesthetic connotation of his passes will have mesmerized generations of football fans. Independently of the outcome with the national team, football will make sure to give the German legend a legendary send-off, because that is what he deserves. He has inspired generations, and he is leaving at the perfect time.

I have no idea what a Kroos-less Real Madrid will look like because I grew up with Kroos running Real Madrid’s engine. Still, all things have an end, and one needs to recognise this is the right time to hang up his boots. The timing couldn’t be any more Kroos, personality and ignoring what’s around him, backing his internal clock. He still has the opportunity to win against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final to leave the club on a high note – opposite, Marco Reus has announced the end of his adventure with the German club. A Kroos-less Real Madrid exists – but nobody knows what it looks like. If anything, his influence will never leave the club…

Tags Germany Real Madrid Toni Kroos


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