It can be easy to overlook Toni Kroos. At a club which prides itself on being bombastic, more glamorous than any other, the German doesn’t quite fit the bill. He very rarely makes headlines. He’s popular with Real Madrid fans, but doesn’t sell many shirts. In a crowd, he wouldn’t stand out. Yet Kroos deserves Galactico status just as much as anyone else. He’s just a silent Galactico.
Of course, it would be inaccurate to claim Kroos gets no credit. He is considered one of the finest players in his position, with his arrival at Real Madrid just over three years ago coinciding with an unprecedented period of success for the club, particularly at European level where his style of play makes the greatest impact. But cast against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos, Isco and the rest, Kroos somewhat fades into the background.
His contribution is at the forefront of how Real Madrid play, though, and the German is becoming increasingly influential. That was demonstrated by his performance in the Champions League win over Borussia Dortmund last week, returning from injury to dictate things in the centre of the pitch.
Kroos is at the peak of his powers, becoming Real’s conductor-in-chief. That role once belonged to Luka Modric, and to a certain extent it still does. But the Croatian plays in a more advanced position than Kroos, picking the passes around the edge of the box. It’s another factor in why Kroos goes largely unnoticed. He’s the guy who picks the passes to ensure Modric can pick the passes.
What’s more, with Luka Modric now 32, Real Madrid need a succession plan for when the Croatian suffers an inevitable decline. Modric remains one of the best centre midfielders in Europe, but Zidane must start planning for a future without him, as sobering a thought as that might be.
In terms of pure influence, Kroos is already becoming a giant in the same side as Modric. He has achieved at least a 90% pass completion rate in each of the last three La Liga seasons, illustrating the efficiency of his play. The German is averaging two key passes per game this season, which is actually more than Modric and only marginally below Isco (2.4 key passes per game).
He has always been a metronome, making more passes than any other Real Madrid player this season and therefore excelling at getting the best from others around him. Without the German, Real Madrid would simply lose their structure. He has been an integral part of what Zidane has built at the club over the past few years.
But Kroos is growing into more than just a midfield pass-master though that is, of course, still his calling card as a player. That’s his weapon, but he is adding more to his arsenal. He is, for instance, Real Madrid’s most prolific crosser so far this season, averaging 2.2 crosses per match. He also plays more long balls than any other player at the club (7.4 per match).
Interchangeability and adaptability has been crucial to Los Blancos’ success under Zidane and Kroos is the embodiment of that. Zidane is a coaching pragmatistic, choosing a style and system on the basis of the challenge is presented with at any given time. Sometimes he imposes himself on opponents, at other times he counters them.
But without Kroos, Zidane wouldn’t be able to do this – or at least, he wouldn’t be able to do it so effectively. Ronaldo, Bale, Isco and co. might be the ones who do the most obvious damage for Real Madrid, but the German is a wrecking ball of his own type.
The type who doesn’t make much noise, but destroys just as much.