Kroos doesn't want to be Casemiro - and it shows

While he has been away on international duty, and far from his boss at Real Madrid, Toni Kroos reminded Julen Lopetegui that he isn’t Casemiro. And he’s quite right. As players, they are naturally very different. Kroos plays wider and is more involved in creating moves and playing a supporting role for the forwards; he is more concerned with what is going on in the opposition’s area than his own. At the Bernabéu, a lot of people have him figured out. They can see he’s too slow getting back when the team has to defend. Those kinds of things are easier to see at the stadium than on TV. Modric and Isco are better than he is at winning the ball back. Kroos is the kind of player who loves getting forward but is lethargic when it comes to getting back to give the defence a hand.

Toni Kroos

Central role

The confusion dates back to the time when Kroos made more of an effort with his defensive duties. When he first arrived, Ancelotti deployed him in a central midfield role, flanked by Modric and James, or sometimes by Isco. He was a youthful 24-year-old, recently elevated from being a promising hopeful at Bayern to a first choice at Real Madrid, where he did what he could – and what was capable of doing faded with time. Benítez brought Casemiro back from his loan at Porto but, conditioned by the need to field his star players, his team suffered a humiliating 0-4 hiding at home to Barça with Kroos playing in the middle. Zidane also started with Kroos in a central role until he decided to give Casemiro his big chance. To do so, he had to sacrifice James but it worked and the successes followed.

Toni Kroos in training with Germany last week.

Kroos acknowledges his limits

So that’s how it all panned out in terms of the team. As for Kroos, that eager 24-year-old who toiled to carve out his place at Real Madrid is now fast approaching 29, and during that time he’s won three Champions Leagues with Madrid and the World Cup with Germany. It's understandable that he feels he’s earned the right to be first choice – but only doing what he is best at doing and able to do. He’s no longer the player who cover as a sweeper as well as give the team balance – not even on the rare occasions when Casemiro isn’t available, and that’s the point he’s making. We have a tendency to see German players almost like machines but they are also humans who have whims of their own once they achieve a certain status.