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Euro 2024: Toni Kroos ends glittering career in defeat

July 5, 2024

He is one of German football's most successful players, but Toni Kroos missed a last chance to win the only trophy to elude him. After feeling under-appreciated at home, he succeeded abroad before bowing out at the top.

Toni Kroos holds up his hands
Toni Kroos ended his club career with victory, but his international career in defeatImage: Lee Smith/REUTERS

Toni Kroos' last moment as a professional was one he's spent a lifetime preparing for. A deep freekick, a tournament on the line, a nation holding its breath. But it wasn't to end in glory, as so many had before. Instead Spain cleared the ball, Kroos bowed his head and knew he would finish a highly-decorated career without a European Championship win.

The German midfielder announced his retirement from all football shortly ahead of the tournament, before winning the Champions League again with Real Madrid. His departure signals the end of a footballing career marked by timing, precision, decisiveness and trophies.

"At the end of the season this chapter comes to an end," the 34-year-old wrote on his Instagram page in May in reference to his decade at Real. "This decision means that my career as an active footballer will end this summer after the Euro championship."

From the moment he became Bayern Munich's then-youngest debutant in 2007 at age 17, immediately laying on two goals for Miroslav Klose, it was clear that Kroos had the potential to make it to the top.

Ultimately, he went on to secure his status as a German great despite spending most of his career in Spain. His three Bundesliga titles and one Champions League triumph with Bayern were followed by four La Liga and four Champions League trophies with Real Madrid.

Leaving Germany, dominating the Champions League

Kroos is something of a rarity in Germany. In contrast to many of his contemporaries on the Bayern and German squad at the time — such as Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller, who all stayed put and racked up Bundesliga titles but less success in Europe — Kroos left Bayern, after also helping Germany lift the 2014 World Cup, to find success on the European stage.

It is in the Champions League that Kroos has forged his reputation while other Germans saw only intermittent success in club football's top competition.

Without pace to fall back on, Kroos has at times been written off. But his metronomic passing style, composure in possession and tactical brain have seen him continue to dominate even the biggest of games.

"Real Madrid matches always go in Kroos' rhythm," said his former teammate Casemiro. "He's one of the most important players at the club because he manages the ball and the rhythm with which we play."

After wrapping up another La Liga title with plenty to spare, Kroos exited the club football stage when Real beat Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final in London on June 1. In his farewell message, he said the Spanish club have been pivotal in his life.

"July 17th, 2014 — the day of my presentation at Real Madrid, the day that changed my life. My life as a footballer — but especially as a person. It was the start of a new chapter at the biggest club in the world," Kroos wrote. "As I have always said: Real Madrid is and will be my last club. I am happy and proud, that in my mind I found the right timing for my decision and that I could choose it by my own. My ambition was always to finish my career at the peak of my performance level."

Fractious relationships outside Madrid

The statement made no mention of Bayern or Germany, which perhaps hints at relationships that have not always been as mutually gratifying as that between Kroos and Madrid. Kroos reportedly left Bayern after feeling he, as a player that had come through the youth team, was undervalued by the club hierarchy and paid less than big name arrivals.

Toni Kroos strikes the ball with his right foot
Toni Kroos won plenty at Bayern but did not feel he was appreciatedImage: Ralf Ibing/augenklick/firo Sportphoto/picture alliance

Often outspoken, his relationship with the media — and to some degree fans — in Germany has also been frosty at times. Kroos criticized the media directly during the shock 2018 World Cup exit in Russia. "Many people would have been happy if we had gone out," he said after Germany lost their opener to Mexico. "Anyone who speaks up, those experts, and anyone who writes about it can feel they have addressed things, but it gives me the feeling that it's more fun to analyze or talk or write badly of us."

While Kroos bowed out in a Germany shirt, he hasn’t always felt appreciated in his home country, where criticism of his style during Euro 2020 (played in 2021) was a contributing factor to his initial international retirement. Even Germany’s current boss Julian Nagelsmann mentioned it when he welcomed Kroos back to the fold in February.

Visionary midfielder

"He knows what he can do. On the other hand, he also knows what he can't do. He has a very good instinct, a good calmness," the former Bayern coach said. "There is always this expression in Germany "Querpass-Toni" [square pass Toni] — anyone who says that knows nothing about football."

Toni Kroos covers his mouth with his hand
Toni Kroos has had ups and downs with Germany, and will finish with a home tournament at Euro 2024Image: Frank Hoermann/SvenSimon/picture alliance

Having played under Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Louis van Gaal, Ottmar Hitzfeld and several other top level coaches, it's clear that Kroos is valued by those who do know something about football. "You can pass him the ball at any time and he'll find a way to deal with it, even if he's under pressure," said his former Germany coach Joachim Löw, "He has great vision and a sense of where he is on the pitch."

It is perhaps more a sense of where he is in his career, and his life, that has compelled Kroos to call time on his playing days. It would fit the script he's written for himself if he were to bow out with another trophy. Maybe even two.

Edited by: Mark Meadows