Driver, forward-thinker, the man to make you better: Toni Kroos is one of the pillar of a national team in upheaval. No one in the current squad has played for the national side more times than Kroos (96 times) and scored more than he has (17 times) either. The year is coming to an end, so it’s a great time to get Toni in an interview.
DFB.de: Mr Kroos, what do you class as your favourite moment or highlight of 2019?
Toni Kroos: There were plenty of nice moments in 2019, both for Real Madrid and for the national team. We won a huge trophy with Real Madrid, but as far as a specific highlight goes, honestly I don’t have one. To say I have one from this season wouldn’t work either because we’re still in the middle of the campaign and many of the big games are still to come. In the first half of the season it’s more about preparing yourself for the biggest games, then in the second half it’s about following up on that preparation with results.
DFB.de: You scored the winning goal in your 100th Champions League game against Galatasaray. What did that mean to you?
Toni Kroos: It was really nice of course, but more because it was an important goal for us in an important game. After the first two matchdays in the Champions League we only had one point, so we had to win. I don’t put too much stress on statistics and things like that. I also only heard just before the game that it was my 100th in the Champions League by one of my colleagues at Real Madrid. The fact that I scored in a special game for me personally was just a footnote. The most important thing was that we won the game through my goal, it was exactly the same in the game for Germany against Belarus. Who scores the goals doesn’t matter – it matters that we win the game.
DFB.de: So you don’t have a particular highlight from your footballing year, but from your private life it should be much easier?
Kroos: True. Of course the birth of my third child is right at the top. In March I got to be a father once again, there’s no bigger highlight than that. Everyone who’s already been through that knows how huge it is in your life, it’s the biggest thing that can happen to a person. And everyone how knows me, knows how much I enjoy being a father. It’s the most important thing in my life and everything else comes second for me.
DFB.de: The national team found itself in a bit of upheaval in 2019. There were also large scale changes to the Real Madrid squad at the start of the season too. Have you ever experienced such things before in your career?
Kroos: A few similarities spring to mind. It goes without saying that I still play a huge role in both sides, that hasn’t changed. To me though, the upheaval in the national team was far worse than that of my club. The changes weren’t massive at Real, they weren’t irrelevant, but they happened at a good time. Furthermore, we had a lot of experienced players at Real Madrid to help us through, whereas in the national side, the changes ran a lot deeper.
DFB.de: Does it feel weird to you that players such as Mats Hummels, Thomas Müller and Jerome Boateng no longer belong to the national side?
Kroos: No, that’s football, there are always changes happening. I’ve experienced that all through my career. Players come and go, coaches come and go, you just have to adapt to it.
DFB.de: That’s a very rational way to think about it. You’ve been there a long time and have great connections, could you have made that decision?
Kroos: Of course it would have been a little weird, because I’ve spent so much time around these players and now many of them are no longer there. But in terms of football, it’s part of the business, and I try to handle that with as little emotion as possible.
DFB.de: The upheaval meant that a lot of new players came in to the fold. How interesting is this new composition of players? How curious are you to see how these new young players do in their first games for their country?
Kroos: Of course I’m really excited about the new players. I don’t watch every week of the Bundesliga while I’m in Spain, not because it doesn’t interest me, but I simply don’t have to time due to my own games. And secondly because I now have three kids to look after at home who want to spend a lot of time with me, and I with them. I don’t know of few of these new young players very well, so for me it’s really interesting to get to not only train with them, but also play with them in games. What can they bring to the team on the pitch, and what type of characters are they off it? When you take a rational perspective on things, it’s really important to get to know everyone in the squad.
DFB.de:You must be eleven good friends then…
Kroos:No, we don’t have to be the best of friends. But a positive feeling off the pitch is an important foundation of any successful side.
DFB.de: How important do you see yourself in the make-up of this team? Do you step in if ever there’s a problem?
Kroos: I would always intervene, but it wouldn’t just be me. We all keep an eye out because we all know how important it is for a national side to get on with each other. But I don’t feel we need any interventions in this squad. There are always characters who wants to be in groups, and those who prefer to do things on their own. I’d say I’m one of those people, but it’s got nothing to do with poor integration. It’s about everyone feeling comfortable in this team, and I’m quite sure that that’s the case.
DFB.de: A big part of this upheaval was also a change in playing style – switching to less possession, more counter attacks. How much do you feel this change taking effect? Have you had to adapt your own game a bit?
Kroos: When any team wants to adapt their playing style, every player has to look at whether they need to adapt their game. I also have to ask myself exactly how does the coach want to play, what he wants to put emphasis on, and how I can use my abilities to best implement these ideas out on the pitch. A big part of that has been playing a more direct approach to attacking, yes. The coach has had to look at which players best fit this playing style. It’s never a good idea to implement a new style when you don’t have the right players to do it. It’s clear that that’s had an effect on me, but things have been exaggerated in my opinion.
Kroos: It would be wrong to say that we’ve abandoned possession football. I always believe that it’s better to build up moves and play one touch football and combine with each other well. Long balls forward will always be a secondary part of our game. Against most opponents, not much has changed in our game - a lot of teams will continue to sit back and defend and give us the ball much of the time. If we didn’t play possession football then, there’s no way we’d win!
DFB.de: So everything is as it’s always been.
Kroos: For us, the best way to beat an opponent changes from game to game. Sometimes playing long balls is more effective, sometimes sitting back and playing on the counter works better. But it all depends on the opponent and different situations that can present themselves within a game.
DFB.de:Ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, you were among those who issued words of warning. What grounds for warning are there at the end of 2019 with a look ahead to EURO 2020?
Kroos:I think our approach was really good and I think we’ve played some great football as well. In a lot of games, we were able to put our ideas into practice,against good teams as well, such as the Netherlands. I think we’ve improved a lot this year, but in a lot of games, we were unable to maintain a good level for the whole 90 minutes. At a tournament, if you want to be successful, that’s exactly what you have to do. You cannot afford to ever let your game drop below a certain standard – even a bad half hour can mean you’re out.
DFB.de:Are the Germans still among the favourites?
Kroos:No, we have to be realistic, but that’s just my opinion as things stand. Anyway, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have big ambitions for the tournament. We want to have our say and we want to go far. It’s too early to make predictions, though; we’ll just have to see what the squad looks like in half a year’s time, for example,where Leroy Sané and Niklas Süle are at by then. One thing is certain: We as a team have to make good use of the time between now and the tournament. We’ll need to prepare well and use that time to get used to each other. It is true, that there are two or three teams a step ahead of us, but that doesn’t mean it will be the case come June.
DFB.de:At the EUROS, Germany will play at least three games in Munich. How much are you looking forward to playing home games in Munich again?
Kroos:Regardless of our base, I just think it’s great to have home games. I hope we can use this to our advantage. The fans are looking forward to these games, as am I, as is the team.
DFB.de:You want to consider your future international career after the EUROS, How much will Germany’s success at the tournament influence your final decision?
Kroos:Not at all, that doesn’t come into it. If success or failure was an issue then I would have retired after 2014 or 2018. For me, other things are decisive. I expect the best from myself – I expect to be playing at the top of my game, and when a new cycle begins, I have to back myself to still be at the top of my game by the end of it. Nobody knows better than I do what needs to happen for that, what my body needs. I’m fully concentrated on the EUROS now and after that I will listen to myself and consider my future.
DFB.de:Stimmen Sie zu, dass Sie vom Spielertyp her zumindest theoretisch noch lange auf hohem Niveau spielen könnten? Would you agree with the sentiment that the type of player you are will theoretically allowyou to continue playing at your best for a long time?
DFB.de:You don’t rely on pace or physicality. Your abilities will not deteriorate as quickly with age. Precision, composure, vision, can last a lot longer.
Kroos:That’s only partly true. Everything I do may look a little easier, and I’m not the kind of player pushing world records for the 100 metre sprint, but it is often overlooked that I am always among the players who cover the most ground. I’m notthe fastest, but in terms of ground covered I’m always in the top three, and I do that every three or four days. Obviously I start to feel that over the years. Besides, how long I continue to play for the national team is not just a question of how long I am able to, but how long I want to.
DFB.de:You’ll have to explain that.
Kroos:Aside from physical demands, there are certain psychological factors to consider. I’m a family-orientated person and I miss out on a lot of family time on account of all the travelling. It’s a huge sacrifice to me. I won’t get any of that time withmy kids back, and in their younger years more than any, kids need both parents around. This also comes into play when weighing up my options. The question is: How much will Ibenefit from continuing my international career and how much am I willing to sacrifice for it.
DFB.de:As well as Toni Kroos the footballer and Toni Kroos the father, there is also a Toni Kroos the foundation director. We spoke about 2019 highlights before– do you have any more in relation to the foundation?
Kroos:It’s a process, which has been underway for almost four and a half years now. Fortunately, there have already been several wonderful moments to look back on. It’s always great to get feedback telling us that we’ve been able to help a family.However, I don’t wish to give an assessment. For me, and for everyone involved with the foundation, it means a lot when we’re able to help a child and his family.
DFB.de:Was it not a particularly special moment for you when your foundation pledged its support for the children’s hospice in Greifswald, your hometown?
Kroos: We’ve only just begun cooperation with ‘Leuchtturm’, so it’s not as though I could already put my finger on one moment that was particularly emotional for me. We just looked into how we could help in my hometown. The establishment is nota classic hospice, like the ones in Berlin and Düsseldorf – ‘Leuchtturm’ provide an outpatient service, where the employees visit children at home with their families and help in any way they can.
DFB.de:Your foundation supports children with life-threatening illnesses. How much does it affect you when you hear that one of the children has passed away?
Kroos: Obviously I do hear about it, there’s no ignoring that. There was a recent case which affected me and especially my brother. In Berlin, there was a girl who wished to have a ride in a helicopter. We were able to grant her that wish, but shortlyafter she died. Something like that really does affect you. In this case it affected my brother above all, because he had met this girl a few days before.
DFB.de:Stories like this must really hit you close to home as a father.
Kroos:Absolutely. However, despite that, this particular girl’s story is verification of what it is that we do as a foundation. We were able to help give this child a something to enjoy in her last days. Despite the tragic story, this was a good feeling.