Real Madrid: Where does Toni Kroos rank among the best midfielders in history?

Real Madrid, Toni Kroos (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Toni Kroos (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Whenever I write something about Toni Kroos, I definitely include the sentence “We are simply lucky to have Toni Kroos play for our favourite club” in the article. I just find ways to include that line, because I feel I’m truly indebted to him for coming to Real Madrid, and for mesmerizing all of us with magical and classy football. Watching him every week made us get used to his game, and we aren’t surprised by his out-of-the-world passes and beautiful touches anymore. In fact, sometimes we don’t realise his brilliance until we watch him play after a long time, as we also realise how much we missed watching him.

Ever since he returned to action in October after recovering from pubalgia, he has been playing at a level above everyone else and it makes us feel as if we are witnessing a living legend at his absolute best. Every pass, every touch and every action from Toni Kroos makes me think more and more about his brilliance. But it also brings me to one question. Where does he rank among the greatest midfielders in history?

Ranking players among other legends of the game is a very difficult task. Because football is a sport with a remarkable history spanning over a hundred years. We can’t just point out one player and say he’s the greatest to play the game because there are many such players who have accomplished a lot in their careers. And above all, it is a debate where there is no universal fact and we all just share our opinions.

For example, fans of this generation debate on who’s the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. It is a subjective debate and there is no clear winner, but it’s not justified to use the tag GOAT. If you go back 30-40 years in time, you would have found people arguing about who’s the greatest between Pele and Diego Maradona. And 60 years ago, you would have found people hailing Alfredo Di Stefano as the best player ever.

Comparing Toni Kroos to his contemporaries is a good start

At the same time, it is difficult to compare players from different generations because the game changes from one generation to the other. And you can never compare them based on numbers because there was such extensive analysis of players back in the 20th century. The best thing we can do is to create a bracket of the greatest players ever, where we include all such legends who have accomplished enough in their careers to be eligible to fit into that category.

I’m not that knowledgeable to have a great idea of players from the last century, so let’s just limit our history to this 21st century. And it would be unfair of me to write about the players whom I haven’t watched week in week out. We have so many great midfielders from this century itself, who just stand apart from the rest and can easily enter into the legendary bracket. The players who fit into the bracket are Zinedine Zidane, Andres Iniesta, Luka Modric, Xavi, Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, and so on.

Real Madrid, Toni Kroos (Photo by Constantin Stefan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Toni Kroos (Photo by Constantin Stefan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) /

Does Toni Kroos fit into that category? Absolutely and there is no doubt about that. People often underrate Toni Kroos, which is a very frustrating sight, and there is a need for people to stop underrating a legend of this game. We’ll find out where Toni Kroos ranks among the greatest midfielders, but before that let me just make it clear that some of the parameters I’m using here to judge players are footballing quality, longevity (including fitness), adaptability, consistency, individual and collective achievements.

For me, Zinedine Zidane is at the top of the list. His sheer quality is enough to make me rate him as a player who stands above everyone else. Then he is followed closely by Andres Iniesta and Luka Modric, among whom I would give a slight edge to the Croatian genius. These guys are followed by Xavi Hernadez, who’s followed by everyone else. At this point, a few of the readers might like to disagree with me. I would just ask them to think of the parameters I’ve mentioned above and remind people that the difference between the legends I’ve named is very minimal.

Toni Kroos is comparable to a great rival, Xavi

Coming to Kroos, where can we rank him? Ability wise he is top-class. He is currently the best passer in the world and might be one of the greatest passers of all time, both vision and range-wise. He isn’t among the fastest dribblers, but he’s still an effective dribbler who can evade challenges with ease, thanks to his excellent touch. And I would also like to point out the mental aspect of his game, as he’s a highly intelligent player who makes the best use of his IQ, which can be understood from his game. I don’t think he is as complete as his partner in crime, Luka Modric, but he knows how to make the best use of his strengths to overshadow his negligible shortcomings, which makes him look like a player with no significant weakness.

He is currently 31 years old, and he has been playing at a high level since his Leverkusen days in 2009/10. Over 10 years at an extraordinary level, which is enough to talk about his longevity. And adaptability-wise, he has proven himself in different clubs, different positions, and also in different systems under different managers. And he has also won every trophy that’s out there by the age of 28 (except for a Copa Del Rey title), even with his national team as he won the World Cup in 2014 as the competition’s highest-rated player.

But the aspect of that game that makes him special is his consistency. He silently records 9/10 performances every week which go unnoticed. His sheer consistency and ability to make the game his own, irrespective of the opposition makes him special. And it compensates for the absence of the entertainment factor, as it makes him an effective player, more than an entertaining player or a numbers player.

Considering all the parameters, I would like to place Toni Kroos on the same step as Xavi, with whom he shares some resemblance gameplay-wise. I haven’t pointed out any significant weaknesses but the reason why I haven’t placed him at the top is just because of a few minor reasons that are kind of difficult to explain.

Somewhere I think the absence of limelight on Kroos and the fact that he is criminally underrated is playing a role in him not winning anything on an individual level. Maybe even I’m underrating Kroos like others, but I feel his selflessness in being a team player who never cares for individual accolades and doesn’t care about proving something to someone is making a minor difference.

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But irrespective of everything else, Toni Kroos belongs to the bracket of the greatest players of all time and he is only behind a few more special players with marginal differences. But he still has some more time on his side and looking at the way he’s playing right now, I’m sure he will climb another step in the ranking of midfielders, and hopefully, more people realise the greatness of Toni Kroos.