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WATCH: Is Germany in a great spot to repeat?
Toni Kroos might not convey the kind of starpower that so many of his teammates do with Germany’s national team and at Real Madrid, but make no mistake: The 28-year-old midfielder is the foundation of their recent success.
He’s the archetypal modern attacking midfielder, the anointed successor to Xavi, the man who is redefining what a playmaker can be, and when you surround him with the kind of talent the Germans and Meringues possess, good things happen.
Kroos is the linchpin behind Germany’s breathtaking attack, the conduit from the back to the front, the foundation of everything that occurs. He’s got sublime technique, touch to die for, exquisite vision and the ability to deliver a pass of any distance on a dime, a quick burst and extraordinary change of direction, brilliant movement, a deadly shot from distance, and the ability to create chances his colleagues will finish.
That would be enough to make any list of top players, but he’s also an expert defender, an intelligent ball-winner with a knack for picking off passes and starting the quick counter. His work ethic and commitment to the cause typify the modern German game, and if the defending World Cup champs are going to become just the third team to repeat — and first since Brazil in 1962 — he’s going to be at the center of it.
He’s revered by those who follow the game, but the every-four-year World Cup fans — those who can identify Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, and maybe Landon Donovan — are in for a treat if they pay attention. He might not be as showy as others in his position, not quite the trickster that Messi and Neymar portray, but he’s among the most efficient and incisive players in the game.
You won’t hear him singing his own praises, but those who know the game are in awe. Marca dubbed him “a one-man orchestra” for Real Madrid, and Zinedine Zidane, his manager with the Meringues, called him the “perfect” player for the club. After his exquisite performance in Germany’s run to the title four years ago, he was on the Golden Ball shortlist and was rated the best player in the tournament by FIFA’s Castrol Index, its official statistics analyst. His performance in the 7-1 semifinal destruction of Brazil, in which he set up the first two goals, then scored the next two in two minutes, is among the finest in 85 years of World Cups.
“He’s doing everything right,” Johan Cruyff weighed in at the time. “The pace in his passes is great, and he sees everything. It’s nearly perfect.”
Xavi, the fulcrum around which Spain’s and Barcelona’s magnificent sides revolved, thinks the world of him.
“For me, Kroos is the axle in the Madrid team,” he has said. “I see a lot of myself in him. He’s like my successor on the field.”
He’s fulfilling the promise first glimpsed in his teens, when he was identified as a “jahrhunderttalent” — “a talent of the century” — while with Hansa Rostock’s youth academy. Bayern Munich brought him to Bavaria when he was 16, and he made his Bundesliga debut the following year, setting up two goals in an 18-minute stint off the bench in his first appearance.
A year-and-a-half loan when he was 19 and 20 to Bayer Leverkusen, to get him more playing time, was instrumental in his evolution. Jupp Heynckes’ mentorship expanded his understanding of the game and his role within it, and they would reunite in 2011 at Bayern, winning a Bundesliga title and UEFA Champions League crown together.
Real Madrid grabbed Kroos in a bargain — a reported $26 million fee — and he’s been the focal point behind three Champions League title runs, three Club World Cup crowns and a La Liga title.The Germans have extraordinary talent on every line — goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, if he’s healthy, along with defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, Mesut Özil in midfield, Thomas Müller attacking from a flank — and are heavy favorites to win this World Cup. Kroos is the man who can make it happen.