The Ballon d’Or has caused some controversy in recent years with glaring omissions from shortlists and teams of the year, as well as some bizarre voting patterns and preferential treatment by coaches or players involved in the voting process. So, to try and bring some credibility back to football’s individual honours, we have created The Blog d’Or, where the writers of The Blog FC have whittled down a 50-man longlist to countdown the real best 23 players of the calendar year. The countdown continues here.
The Blog d’Or #15
Bayern Munich & Real Madrid
Calendar years don’t come much better than they did in 2014 for Toni Kroos.
A domestic double, a World Cup, a move to the “biggest club in the world” to replace one of the greatest midfielders of his generation, a Club World Cup, and being a pivotal figure in a record-breaking winning streak.
There are few who are as talented yet as understated as the pass-master Kroos, nonchalantly going about his business and manipulating the ball through gaps that no one else can see. He has already collected nine assists this season for Real, and is completing passes at a phenomenal 93%. He’s also notched one goal for his new club – a trademark strike from distance – despite playing as the deepest midfielder and his role being strictly that of a distributor.
“Kroos is a phenomenon,” wrote The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson.
“He is creative without being flash, breaks up play without being violent. He is physically robust without being a monster and astute in possession without over-reaching. He has an understated efficiency that means he probably isn’t appreciated as much as he ought to be.”
Hi ability to play incisive passes from anywhere on the pitch while also retaining possession is unrivaled. In Europe’s top leagues, only Samir Nasri comes close to the German’s 2.2 Key Passes per match at 92.4% completion (2.7 at 90.3%), though Kroos makes more than ten more passes per match. There are only four players on the continent with a better pass completion percentage (though Kroos makes the most passes per match of the top 5), and his 2.2 Key Passes dwarf the competition, with no one else in the top 10 completing more than 0.9.
Michael Cox of Zonal Marking and ESPN wrote in November 2013 that “it’s uncommon to see a player excelling in both respects. Either they retain possession but rarely play penetrative passes… or they’re very creative but concede possession readily because of their ambition.
“Kroos can do both”.
He also delivers inch-perfect set-pieces, just to add another string to his bow.
Kroos has always been destined for greatness. Since his early days at school in his hometown of Rostock where the teachers forced him to play barefooted against the other students in boots, through to his breakthrough in the Bundesliga on loan at Bayer Leverkusen. Five years ago Franz Beckenbauer had labelled him “the next Ballack”, and Kroos’ career has continued on an upward trajectory to the point that he is one of the game’s most complete midfielders, yet continually getting better.
In February he single-handedly took Bayern past Arsenal in the Champions League, with a delightful chipped pass setting up Arjen Robben after he himself had opened the scoring with a curler from distance – responding to being dropped by manager Pep Guardiola earlier in the season in the best way possible.
It was in the national team colours where he really excelled, though.
He was voted Germany’s National Team Player of the Year by fans this month – yes, even ahead of Manuel Neuer – and his performances for Die Nationalmannschaft in Brazil were simply remarkable. He scored twice and was man of the match in the 7-1 annihilation of Brazil in the semi-finals – one of the greatest performances in World Cup history – made four assists overall, and finished the tournament as the number one player according to the Castrol Performance Index. Without the ball he was also impressive, key to the Germans’ pressing and harassing of the opposition into errors, while making key tackles and interceptions at both ends of the pitch.
Such was the quality of his performances that three-time winner of the Ballon d’Or and Dutch legend Johan Cruyff believes that Kroos was the decisive factor in Germany’s victory, claiming that he should’ve received the Ballon d’Or ahead of club teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.
“At the highest level, it’s a combination of individual talent and titles. From this point of view, it is absurd that, for the second consecutive year, the prize has been given to a player who has not played excellently [at a major tournament] or won the most titles.
“In 2013, Bayern Munich won everything there was to win, and yet Cristiano Ronaldo won the award instead of Toni Kroos or any other Bayern player.
“In 2014, Kroos was again decisive in the team that won the World Cup, and yet he was not in the three finalists. Ronaldo was invisible in the World Cup.
To cap off the official titles and accolades, he was also named to the FIFPro Team of the Year and was named the Best Playmaker of 2014 by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics – the first time in six years the award has been won by someone who doesn’t play for Barcelona.
Midfielders don’t often reach this level until their late 20s or early 30s, and with a game not heavily reliant on physicality, expect to see King Kroos at the top for the best part of the next decade.