I am going to get this out of the way now: I like Toni Kroos and I think the Real Madrid star is a terrific player. I will even go as far as to say I think he is a legend within Germany’s ranks at the national team-level.
I will also say it is time for Kroos to pass the torch to Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka. This is not to say Kroos is the scapegoat for another uneven German performance yesterday against Switzerland — he was not (the defensive unit and manager share equals parts blame for that debacle). But Joachim Löw needs to firmly turn the page on 2014’s field players if he really wants this new unit to develop its own championship-cultivating mentality.
The 100+ Club— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) October 14, 2020
150 | @LMatthaeus10
137 | Miroslav Klose
130 | @Podolski10
121 | @BSchweinsteiger
113 | @philipplahm
108 | @J_Klinsmann
105 | Jürgen Kohler
104 | @mertesacker
103 | @beckenbauer
101 | Thomas Häßler
100 | @esmuellert_
100 | @ToniKroos #DieMannschaft pic.twitter.com/qNO2iomeXj
No more half-measures
When Löw decided to “go young” and lop Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng, and Mats Hummels from Germany’s squad, he deliberately left the squad without much of a veteran presence among the field players. With Marco Reus oft-injured, Kroos has been the most key player of the “been there, done that” veteran group.
The idea for going young was that Löw wanted to change the team’s culture and provide more opportunities for younger players, but in doing so, he neutered the team of much of its personality and leadership.
If Löw truly wants to foster the squad’s evolution to a younger core group, then Kroos must take a seat on the bench. He should absolutely still be a part of the group — and should even be the first in line as a substitute, but it is time for Kimmich and Goretzka to take charge of the team and midfield.
Sure, this argument fits the narrative I’ve already spun about Low needing to move to a 4-2-3-1 not only to salvage his job, but also Germany’s seemingly far-fetched hope for a Euro championship. But it goes a bit deeper than that. When deciding to turnover a team and re-invent a group, it is vital to allow those new voices to be heard and to put them in leadership positions.
And sure, the natural counter-argument is, “What about the team’s captain, Manuel Neuer?” It’s a solid point that he should go as well, but Neuer is playing at a different level than another German goalkeeper (sorry Marc-André ter Stegen) and provides a unique set of skills and instincts that cannot be replicated.
Commit to change
Kroos — at this stage of his career — can be replaced.
While his level of technical ability is likely unmatched on the squad and his tactical awareness is still very strong, this version of Germany is more reliant on its athleticism. With sprinters like Timo Werner, Leroy Sane, Kai Havertz, and Serge Gnabry leading the attack, a more athletic and pacey midfield like Kimmich and Goretzka can ensure proper support and the ability to making sprinting runs into the offense. In addition, the Kimmich/Goretzka partnership can continue to develop even when Germany’s squad is not in session. That Bayern Munich duo can further enhance their ability to play off of each with both club and country.
So, let’s celebrate Kroos and all he’s achieved and let’s hope he can acclimate to life as a reserve, where he can provide veteran leadership and a top-notch sub. Until Low commits to a complete turnover, however, the same sputtering results will likely continue to occur.