Real Madrid: Why is Toni Kroos still underrated?

Toni Kroos of Real Madrid (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Toni Kroos of Real Madrid (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid star Toni Kroos could very well be the world’s best midfielder, but he doesn’t get the praise that a man in the “best” conversation should.

When you watch Real Madrid closely, Toni Kroos stands out in every single game. When you really study Real and what makes this team tick, you cannot help but notice the No. 8 on the left-hand side of the formation.

You will see him gesturing with his arms, pointing players into position. As Real play through a difficult, organized La Liga press, you will see the passes going to one man in the middle of it all. And when Kroos receives the pass, the match almost seems to stop. Defenders get a little hesitant, knowing one wrong move could enable Kroos to pick apart their entire defense.

Most of the time, he goes for the safe option, playing a teammate into space with a simple pass. But sometimes, he’ll loop an exquisite ball over the top to the other side of the pitch that is almost always dead-on in its accuracy.

In today’s football climate, the players who receive the most buzz are the ones who produce the highlight-reel worthy plays that make YouTube mixtapes or flood Twitter dot com. Then there are the footballers like Toni Kroos, who come to the pitch, do their job without much fuss, and make their teams better. You cannot comprehend a Real Madrid without Kroos right now, because he is that fundamental to the team.

A sideways passer you say? Unfortunately, this footballing climate allows anyone to have an opinion, regardless of what matches they have watched or if they have ever interpreted data before drawing a conclusion.

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Kroos, according to, was tied for first with Lionel Messi in key passes among all players in the Champions League group stages. He was second behind another Barcelona player, Miralem Pjanic, in passes into the final third. And he was also tied for second in total progressive passes. Unlike Pjanic and Messi, Kroos did not get to face Ferencvaros and Dynamo Kyiv a total of four times.

In the league, Kroos’ stats are similar. He is fifth in key passes and first in passes into the final third. Kroos keeps the ball moving and creates chances, whether from open play or set pieces. And you wonder if his key passes and assists would be much higher if Real’s attackers weren’t so stagnant for the first couple of months of the season and if more players besides Karim Benzema could finish their chances.

Finally, per, Kroos is fifth in La Liga in pass completion percentage. But here’s what’s so remarkable about that. Kroos is averaging 2.2 key passes per game. There are eight players in the league with two key passes per game. Only Kroos has a pass completion percentage of 86 percent or above. And again, his is 93 percent. So to call him a “sideways passer” isn’t just a misleading falsehood; it is an outright insult.

I wonder if Kroos is a victim of his own greatness sometimes. If he were one of those players who were merely average some games but then incredible in others, he would be, as a center midfielder, noticed more frequently on the strength of those few big performances. But since he is subtly great in nearly every game – a common saying among Madridistas is that Kroos never has a bad match – what stands out? For a forward, the stats would do the talking, but for a midfielder, most people don’t look at the charts of passes into the final third or key passes. They look at assists or even the totally useless “passes completed” stat.

An orchestrator or a metronome. Those are two ways in which Kroos is commonly described by fans who watch him play every week. Kroos is not underrated by Madridistas or honest La Liga fans. Those who watch Kroos understand all the attributes he brings to the table. Truly, there is no better passer in world football, when accounting for his accuracy, progressive passing, and chance-creation from different types of passes (crosses, through balls, set pieces, lay-offs).

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If your definition of greatness lies in the annals of five-minute videos or the assist leaderboards, then you are free to have your own, uninformed opinion. But if you have an appreciation for the art of passing and what makes a midfielder a true conductor, then you know that underrating Kroos is a cardinal sin to football.