Toni Kroos has long been regarded as the future of German football. Indeed, his performances at the U-17 World Cup in 2007 were reflective of a player with enormous potential, demonstrating clutch goal-scoring, ambidexterity, intelligent movement and the technique of a player far beyond the average age of the tournament. However, individuals unfamiliar with these performances might not have even noticed him until his exemplary 2009/2010 season with Bayer Leverkusen under Jupp Heynckes where he scored 9 goals and helped his team earn a spot in the Champions League. Two years later, Kroos is under the tutelage of Heynckes again but at Bayern where he is playing the best football of his career and living up to his heralded potential. Long time Bayern München supporter Sherif Morris takes a look at how Kroos has come along since 2007.
After he returned from him loan spell at Leverkusen, Kroos was used by then Bayern coach Louis Van Gaal to complement the aggressive playmaking qualities of his German teammate, Bastian Schweinsteiger. What one can speculate was that, in Kroos, Van Gaal saw a midfielder who possessed intricate passing and distributive qualities, a player who could break up play and act as a bridge between defense and attack. Despite his promise as a holding midfielder who did illustrate these attributes, his defensive inexperience and lack of pace were agonizingly amplified against faster opponents and the attacking edge which he had in abundance was stifled by the responsibilities that came with his deep lying position as well as the marauding instincts of Schweinsteiger.
As a result, Kroos and Bayern suffered a tumultuous and forgettable season under Louis Van Gaal. There are numerous factors that can be pointed out to highlight the inability to effectively reproduce what LvG had envisioned. However, what was important was that the proverbial “trial by fire” cleared up Kroos’s preference as an attacking midfielder (not too dissimilar from German compatriots Mesut Özil and Mario Götze). Although given the qualities of Ribery, Müller and Robben, it was unlikely that he was going to start as an attacker, and acquiesced to the demands of his coach.
But how the pendulum of the beautiful game swings. Heynckes’s arrived at Bayern – the man under which Kroos strived at Leverkusen, would go hand in hand with Kroos’s revival. Here came a coach who recognized and understood the abilities of Kroos as a creative playmaker who needed to be moulded to acclimatize to the modern game. As it followed, Kroos delivered a string of class performance throughout the entire first half of the season and is finally looking like the player who can compete with the likes of Müller, Özil, Podolski, Götze for a spot in the National team.
Of course, there are factors which need to be considered here. First of all, Robben has been absent for most of the season, allowing Heynckes to move Müller to the right, a position he occupies with the National team to great effect, while keeping Kroos ahead of Schweinsteiger and behind Gomez. Although he was slow to start, Kroos soon began to showcase his qualities as an attacking midfielder and scored his first goal in the Champions League against Villareal. He then scored, within 90 seconds no less, against Napoli in a game that ended 1-1. Goalscoring aside, Kroos has looked to be developing into a complete modern midfielder. His most obvious qualities have resurfaced, his ability to hit the ball with either foot, his exceptional passing skills and most importantly, the fact that he never gives up the ball, all of which have been highlighted greatly this season.
There is another interesting facet to his development, that being the interchangeability and chemistry that has developed between Schweinsteiger and Kroos. At Bayern, Heynckes uses Schweinsteiger in the holding role who at times comes forward to make decisive passes or get involved in the goal scoring process. Kroos’s presence has helped to bring Schweinsteiger’s game to another level. When Schweinsteiger is in the opponent’s box, Kroos drops deep to replace him and make sure the opposing team are incapable of counter-attacking. This has given Schweinsteiger’s game more dimension and also presents him with a perfect compliment, someone who understand and reads him well and shares his skill set. At the same time, Schweinsteiger’ provides Kroos with a safety net behind him, an insurance policy if you will. Kroos’s defensive abilities, so agonizingly missed while he played for Van Gaal, have improved substantially as a result.
What Kroos has been given is a luxury few players at this level can afford – time. While he always looked like he was capable of making a great pass, he has rarely been allowed to grow into his own position and given the creative freedom that Heynckes has so kindly provided him. With each passing game, his understanding of the game is enhanced and he has become so fundamental to Bayern’s game that he no longer has to worry about Robben returning. He has passed that concern on to Thomas Müller.
This is also a time most important for the 21 year old. Özil, arguably Germanys most talented player, has not been used by Mourinho much and has been been benched repeatedly. Götze, while he continuing to develop at an impressive rate, has yet to gain that distinctive edge he needs. It is highly unlikely that he’ll replace Özil, after all he is younger, less experienced and this season has only been his first real chance to shine in the Champions League. That said, him stepping up his game will only add pressure and competition to an already competitive and talented squad and improve both club and national team along the way.
Furthermore, considering that Löw is also in favor of a 4-1-4-1, Kroos could find himself gifted with an opportunity to feature heavily with the NT in the Euros next summer. Should Özil and Götze be favored, he could also feature alongside them, in place of Khedira, without sacrificing too much defensively. All in all, it seems as though the young playmaker is headed in the right direction. More important for Bayern and his development is that he gets as much playing time as possible in order to continue down that road.
Follow Sherif on twitter @SherifMorris
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