Johan Cruyff was a famously difficult man to please.
Pep Guardiola found out as an academy player at Barcelona when the legendary Dutchman told the teenage midfielder he was “slower than my granny”. However, in the steely gaze of Cruyff, Toni Kroos was considered “nearly perfect” in 2014.
The metronomic passer of Real Madrid is out of contract next summer when he will be 34. Various sources, none of which are particularly concrete, have linked Kroos with a free transfer to Manchester City in 2024.
But why would the treble winners want a player that peaked a decade ago?
Why would Man City want to sign Toni Kroos?
Guardiola will be well aware of the myriad of qualitiesKrooscan bring to a team after a fruitful season coaching the former Germany international at Bayern Munich. The admiration was mutual. “I loved playing for him,” Kroos gushed when reflecting on the 2013/14 campaign, “and could have renewed my contract at Bayern, of course.
“I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to sign a deal just because of the manager, however. Pep wanted me to renew but what would have been the point of me signing a five-year deal if the manager was off again soon?”
Kroos admitted that the pair are “still in touch and get on very well”, treasuring that campaign “because I learned so much”.
Even though a decade has passed, Kroos remains the continent’s elite pace-setter and pass-master. UsingStatsBomb‘s new expected passing model, Kroos led Europe’s top five leagues for passes completed above expectation last season. Even deep into his 30s, Kroos would make between four and five more passes than the typical player every game. For comparison, Manchester City’s Rodri averaged 2.2 passes above expectation per 90.
This season has been no different. Kroos may have started more than half of Madrid’s La Liga matches on the bench this term but he has featured in every outing. Of any player to have racked up at least 400 minutes this term, only Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong (a former City target) averages more open play passes into the final third than Kroos, who rattles off almost 14 every game.
This summer, City intentionally shifted their focus from elegant passers to direct dribblers, opting for the verticality of Matheus Nunes and Jeremy Doku while parting ways with the likes of Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez. While it is still too early to make a definitive assessment of this altered approach, City has appeared to be more defensively vulnerable without the tight-knit network of playmakers they previously had.
Guardiola has repeatedly touched upon the team’s increased openness this season. “Always I have the feeling that when you take 15, 20 touches, passes in every action in attack, something good is going to happen,” the Catalan warned.
Kroos has the potential to offer an extra layer of ball security when paired with Rodri, whether in a double pivot or in his preferred left position within a midfield trio.
Since Casemiro’s departure in 2022, Carlo Ancelotti has occasionally deployed Kroos in the defensive midfield role for Real Madrid. While not entirely comfortable with defending extensive spaces, a skill that took Rodri a season to refine during his time in Manchester, Kroos could elegantly control the game, particularly when facing one of the many teams that adopt a deep-lying defensive formation against City.