Saturday 24 February 2018

Cultured Kroos can be United's chief tormentor

In a team of stars, Toni Kroos has been a class apart for Bayern Munich at times this season
In a team of stars, Toni Kroos has been a class apart for Bayern Munich at times this season

Oliver Brown

The spectacle of Toni Kroos at Old Trafford is a case of a dream deferred.

A talent long viewed through covetous eyes on the red side of Manchester will be paraded tonight to silent torment among United fans, as if tantalised by a glimpse of the Mercedes-Benz they cannot have.

But while Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Bayern Munich's chief executive, declared unambiguously yesterday that the masterly midfielder "will still be with us next season", the thought that Kroos could still be United's alchemist-in-waiting simply refuses to be quenched.

More than William Carvalho at Sporting Lisbon, or Ilkay Gundogan at Borussia Dortmund, it is Kroos who potentially offers the single most effective antidote to United's midfield malaise. A model exponent of his manager Pep Guardiola's obsession with ball retention at all costs, he has dovetailed perfectly into the Spaniard's template as a deep-lying playmaker, recording a staggering 92pc overall pass completion rate.

At the Emirates last month, he was responsible for 144 passes on his own, just six fewer than the entire Arsenal team combined. Here, at last, could be the restlessly-awaited heir to Paul Scholes, the man to buttress the heart of United's fragile formations and ease the burden upon the overworked mule that is Michael Carrick.

Besides his wonderfully adhesive touch, Kroos' great virtue resides in his prioritising of possession, not out of self-indulgence, but to deliver the type of through-balls and risky final passes that wound the opposition. It was his delightful lofted ball, after all, that found Arjen Robben in the build-up to Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny's red card.

At 24, Kroos has benefited during his seven years at Bayern from two highly distinct phases of mentoring: first from Jupp Heynckes, who moulded him as an attacking midfielder also deployed out wide, then from Guardiola, who has tended to use him as the team's provider-in-chief alongside a more centrally-positioned Phillip Lahm.

The end product is the most expertly engineered component of what sporting director Matthias Sammer, describes as the "Bayern machine".


David Moyes has hardly gone under the radar in United's quest to prise Kroos from Bavaria, turning up to watch his performances at Arsenal and Borussia Monchengladbach. Even so, there was a very Moyesian piece of denial when he was pressed on the matter yesterday."

I don't know where you have your information from but I think Bayern have a lot of good players, not just Toni Kroos," he said, stonewalling. "I would never talk about any player at another club and Toni Kroos is a Bayern Munich player."

It was a touch disingenuous, for United know full well that Kroos could yet come into their orbit. For a start, his contract is being renegotiated and he is understood to be seeking to double his £75,000-a-week deal.

Then, there was his furious reaction to being substituted against Stuttgart in January, which indicated a mounting frustration at competing for his place among Bayern's embarrassment of midfield riches.

While he will be thrust into a leading role tonight in the absence of the injured Thiago Alcantara, the company of Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Javier Martinez and Mario Gotze is scarcely an assurance of long-term job security. The second Kroos edges out of the starting XI will be United's cue to intensify their pursuit.

Indeed, his neat line after the 2-0 win over Arsenal crystallised the capriciousness of life at Bayern. "One week I'm replaceable, now I'm the hero," he said. He and agent Sascha Breese, who met Moyes for talks in Monchengladbach, have a keen sense of his worth to suitors across Europe.

For this is a player heralded as a rare prodigy ever since his first senior match for Bayern against Energie Cottbus aged 17, becoming the club's youngest debutant in the Bundesliga and, for good measure, setting up two goals within 20 minutes of coming on.

Born two months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kroos grew up in the former East German town of Griefswald, on the fringes of the Baltic. He was just 12 when he joined Hansa Rostock, in the youth team coached by his father, and by 16 had sealed his passport to the Bayern hot-house.

While part of Germany's fabled 'golden generation' of home-grown starlets, he was not without academic credentials, despite missing 40 days of school in the year prior to his move to the Allianz Arena.

Sieglinde Heimann, one of his teachers, reflected: "He knew what he wanted and was always a lot more focused than the rest."

Kroos appears settled in his personal life after Jessica Farber, his partner since high school, gave birth to son Leon last August, but the prognosis in his professional sphere is less certain.

Bayern, as illustrated by the imminent arrival of striker Robert Lewandowski, are acquiring world-class players at such a rate that all of them cannot be accommodated in Guardiola's ever-changing system. That leaves United, also targeting another Breese client in Dortmund's Marco Reus, primed to pounce this summer.

Kroos has unresolved business at Bayern, motivated by the agony of defeat to Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final at their own stadium, and the memory of how injury excluded him from an active role in their most recent treble-winning campaign.

Should he contribute to a repeat of that glory, United are most likely safe to look elsewhere for the new-model Scholes. One contender might just be a very promising midfielder at Werder Bremen by the name of Felix Kroos, Toni's younger brother. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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