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Champions League: Kroos goes out on a high, regret for Reus

Matt Pearson Reporting from London
June 2, 2024

Toni Kroos won a sixth Champions League trophy in the last game of his club career. For his fellow German, Marco Reus, it was another night as second best.

Marco Reus (left) and Toni Kroos (right) embrace
Toni Kroos ended his club career on a highImage: Sebastian Räppold/Matthias Koch/dpa/picture alliance

For Toni Kroos, his career ended as so many seasons have: a medal around his neck, a smile on his face and, soon, the opportunity to look forward to another major tournament with Germany.

As Vinicius Jnr. put away the goal that sealed a 2-0 win and a 15th European title for Real, Kroos wandered, alone, towards the Spanish fans at the opposite end of the field. He puffed his cheeks out, gave a little wave and beamed. Job done. Borussia Dortmund defeated.

Moments later, Carlo Ancelotti subbed him off and Kroos let go a little more, pumping his arms to those same fans as Vinicius grabbed him, to ensure the spotlight was on Real’s conductor for a final time. 

As the Real players bounced in front of their fans at fulltime, Kroos drank in every moment of his final club game. He was close to flawless, completing 97% of his 91 passes. As good as ever.

Very few players take the choice to exit the stage while still in a leading role, but Kroos has always marched to his own drum.

“His decision to go is the decision of a great, a decision of character,” said his coach Carlo Ancelotti before the match. “We are saying farewell to a footballing great who we have been lucky to have here.” 

At 34, Kroos will retire from football altogether after the upcoming Euros in his homeland.

Reus denied dream Dortmund farewell

Among the dejected Dortmund players was Marco Reus, a slumped monument to the narrow margins and sliding doors that separate those at the top level of sport. 

He had been on the pitch for a matter of seconds when Kroos, who grew rapidly in influence after an excellent first half from Dortmund, whipped in the corner that allowed Dani Carvajal to score Madrid’s opener.

Reus’s last match for his hometown club had slipped away, like so many Dortmund chances and so many other big moments, in a career marked as much by misfortune and near-misses as magnificence and memories. 

The German pair made their professional debuts three days apart in September 2007; Kroos for Bayern Munich on the way to the Bundesliga title, Reus for Rot Weiss Ahlen in the then-third tier Regionalliga Nord. He too won a title that season, but that would be his last, and likely only, league trophy. 

Marco Reus covers his eyes
Marco Reus failed to win a league title in his 12 years with Borussia DortmundImage: Hirnschal/osnapix/picture alliance

Kroos retires having won seven domestic titles (three with Bayern, four with Real) and six Champions Leagues, as many as Bayern have won in their history (though he missed the 2013 final).

In contrast, Reus’s two German Cup wins represent an underwhelming return for a player who was so incisive, so sharp and such a dead-eyed finisher in his prime. Missing three international tournaments, including the 2014 World Cup win that Kroos was a key a part of, undoubtedly piles on more frustration.

Depature from Germany changed course of Kroos' career

Kroos left Bayern in 2014 feeling he was under-appreciated and went on to prove his worth, while Reus never found the right time to leave a Dortmund side who have finished runners-up 12 times in major competitions since he arrived. 

Whether it’s sentiment, injuries, faith, or a mixture of the three, it has meant his career has missed the defining highs his talent seemed once to demand.

Had this game been against anyone but Real Madrid, that might have changed at Wembley. But experience, composure and a belief in their own destiny propelled Kroos’s side to a 15th title. The bouncing swathes of yellow and black were not bowed, but they were beaten.  

Unlike Kroos, Reus has yet to call time on his career altogether. The reaction to his recent announcement that he would leave Dortmund was illustrative of the esteem in which he is held, having bounced back from being released by his boyhood club to become inseparable from it.

That connection is important, but trophies are paramount for those good enough to make it to the very top, as Kroos knows only too well.

“I wanted to say goodbye with this Champions League victory. It means an incredible amount to me," Kroos told German broadcaster ZDF before turning his mind briefly to retirement. “There will be difficult moments. When you see all this behind you, you'll miss it. It's not easy, I have to admit that."

While Kroos looks forward to one last crack at the only major trophy to elude him, the Euros, Reus must decide what is next. Should he too decide to call it a day, his legacy in his hometown is secured. But his ending was brutally fitting.

Edited by: Kalika Mehta