Nearly every great European side (bar Liverpool) has been build on a great midfield. Usually these midfields comprise of the gung-ho all-action box-to-box man, the defensive brute in holding midfield, the creative force in attacking midfield and, finally, the deep-lying playmaker.
While all of these specialist positions are crucial, there are none more poetic and suave than the deep-lying playmaker, the man who plays cigar in hand, dictating play with consummate ease.
While European football has seen a number of great names stamp their authority on this role – the likes of Paul Scholes and Andrea Pirlo – perhaps modern football’s greatest ‘quarterback’ is Germany’s own: Toni Kroos.
The Real Madrid man has been dominating midfields for the last decade and is rightly recognised as one of Europe’s best players.
While stats and figures can often misguide the perception of a footballer, trophies and silverware are a sure fire way of measuring the greatness of an individual. For Kroos, there’s been no shortage of those, with the Germany international amassing four Champions League trophies, three Bundesliga titles, one La Liga title – oh, and the World Cup.
Yet, the beauty of Kroos is not in his glory or his success, but the magnificent way he dictates and dominates a football game without the reliance on exceptional physical attributes.
As part of arguably the greatest midfield of the last decade – alongside Luka Modric and Casemiro – Kroos has been the conductor, the man with baton in hand leading the orchestra.
While it may be his Croatian colleague that has scooped the Ballon d’Or, Kroos is equally as deserving of his place among the pantheon of great midfielders to have ever played the game.
The east German-born superstar began his career with Bayern Munich, before spending an 18-month spell on-loan at fellow Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, honing his craft.
After an impressive nine goals and 12 assists in the 2009/10 league season, Kroos returned to his parent club and quickly forced his way into the staring XI, forging a dominant midfield partnership with compatriot Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Due to his impressive showings for his club – and playing his part in his nation’s glorious triumph in 2014 – Kroos became the object of fancy for many of Europe’s top sides.
A deal to move to Manchester United was scuppered by the sacking of David Moyes, so the German moved to the Spanish capital, where he has been integral to Los Blancos multitude of Champions League successes.
Yet while he scored the odd thunder bolt, he’s no prolific marksmen, nor is he exactly the master of assists, amassing just 19 goals and 54 assists in his six-year stay in Madrid.
As has been previously mentioned, statistics often do no tell the whole picture, much like United star Scholes who is often lauded by his fellow midifelder yet does not boast a particualrly impressive assist record.
The deep-lying playmaker is not perhaps the most influential player on paper, but it does not take a genius to appreciate the brilliance of a player who can manipulate the ball so beautifully and with such regularity.
Such is the prowess of his pin-point passing, Kroos has been labelled ‘Garçom’ (Portuguese for waiter) by some of his teammates, as he seemingly always delivers the goods on a plate.
Not only adored by his teammates, the 30-year-old has also become someone to idolise for fellow players, with Scholes revealing his admiration for the German (quotes via Dream Team): “I really like Toni Kroos. When I neared the end of my career, I followed him closely and tried to play like Kroos.”
Equally, the late great Johan Cruyff was a keen admirer of the midfield mastermind, with the Dutchman stating back in 2014 that (via the Guardian): “He’s doing everything right: the pace in his passes is great and he sees everything. It’s nearly perfect.”
Perfection is a word that has become synonymous with the ‘Iceman’, with him completing over 90% of his passes in his first 250 games for Real Madrid in La Liga – a truly mindboggling statistic, and one that actually does showcase his talent for once.
Despite turning 30 this year, he has shown now signs of slowing down, scoring a trademark goal in the 3-1 victory over Eibar on 14 June.
Like Scholes and Pirlo before him, Kroos has taken on the key facet to his game that makes him a world class deep-lying playmaker – the ability to score from long range time and again.
Just take his free-kick against Sweden at the 2018 World Cup as an example, while it ultimately proved in vain after a disappointing campaign, the curling last minute effort was truly the indication of an artist at work.
And that artist will surely be a mainstay for his country and his club for a number of years to come, with any manager foolish to discard arguably the greatest midfielder of the last decade.
For a man to slot so seamlessly into two of Europe’s top teams and make them both better is no mean feat, and a true testament to Kroos’ talents.
He may not be the most eye-catching or headline-grabbing of players, but he’s – to put it simply – a genius.