Over the last month, news of Toni Kroos's future has been a red-hot topic in the English and German media. Once widely expected to follow teammates David Alaba and Jerome Boateng in extending his contract, which expires in 2015, the 24-year-old's departure from Bayern Munich has slipped into the realm of possibility.
The Bavarians still have every chance to extend Kroos's deal, but the player recently revealed via Facebook (h/t the Independent) that negotiations have stalled, giving hope to his potential suitors abroad. And if he does indeed leave Bayern, it would be a huge and unnecessary loss for the club, which would be wise to do everything possible to keep Kroos at the Allianz Arena.
Although he has not made any public demands, Bild's Felix Seidel and Mario Volpe (in German) recently reported that Kroos's desire is for his wages to be increased approximately twofold, to put him in the range of the club's top earners. Guardian columnist Raphael Honigstein recently Tweeted that Kroos's demands are partially financial but also political, that he'd like to earn wages on the order of those of club pillars Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Arjen Robben.
To put this all in perspective, consider Bayern's wage scheme as recently revealed by Sport-Bild's Christian Falk and Tobias Altschaffl (in German). Kroos's annual wages reportedly amount to €4.5 million, level with Claudio Pizarro in 15th place in the club's professional roster. Schweinsteiger and Lahm each earn €10 million; Robben €7 million, although according to Falk and Altschaffl (in German) the Dutchman is closing in on a new deal that would see him earn €8 million annually through the end of the 2016-17 season. Kroos, it seems, is therefore holding out for a wage in the €7-10 million range.
With the numbers established, there are several questions that must be asked. The first is: In the context of Bayern's overall wage structure, does Kroos's self-valuation fit? One can say that Lahm and Schweinsteiger are symbols of the Bayern team, that they have represented the club for longer and, as captain and vice-captain, they deserve to be paid more. Robben, one could say, perhaps deserves extra given his heroics in the Champions League last season.
However, the salaries of Schweinsteiger, Lahm and Robben only tell part of the story of Bayern at present. Wages at the Munich club have veritably exploded in the last year, headlined by coach Pep Guardiola's record €17 million pre-tax annual income (nearly double that of the next-highest earner) as revealed by consulting agency Pluri (h/t to Marca).
Among players, position by position, those few who have not recently signed (Dante, at €3.5 million, Mario Mandzukic, at €5 million, and Kroos himself) earn significantly less than those who have signed contracts in the last year or so. Thomas Muller, just four months Kroos's senior, recently penned a deal worth €8 million annually.
Newcomer Thiago Alcantara, more than a year Kroos's junior, was given a contract worth €8 million last summer despite having spent much of his career prior on the Barcelona bench. And Mario Gotze, at the tender age of 21, was given wages on par with top earner Franck Ribery: €12 million. Alongside Gotze and Thiago's wages especially, €8-10 million for Kroos would absolutely be appropriate.
The next question to ask is whether Kroos's demands fit his utility, whether his contribution to the club is worth the money he would cost. It would be easy enough to reference Gotze, Thiago and Muller's similar wages, but the most compelling case can be made in the examples of Ribery and Robben. Assuming he extends as reported, Robben will earn €8 million even during the season he turns 33; Ribery is already set to rake in €12 million until after he celebrates his 34th birthday.
Ribery and Robben are club heroes and deserve recognition, but a combined €20 million in wages for wingers approaching their mid-30s is extremely steep. Neuromuscular velocity typically begins to decline at 32, meaning the now lightning-quick wingers can expect to have significantly lesser pace by the end of their contracts.
Coupling that with the fact that older players are more injury-prone, play fewer games and are less productive on the pitch than during their prime years, it's safe to say that Ribery and Robben will be worth substantially less in 2016-17 than their current value. But they'll still be paid the same staggering wages they earned when at their best.
Kroos, by contrast, is at 24 no longer a young, unproven player but instead is approaching his prime. He's a key international player and has been an integral part of Bayern's team for three-and-a-half seasons. A five-year extension until 2019 would see him remain a Bayern player at least until the age of 29, through the majority of his best years. And he could even be paid wages slightly below those that Schweinsteiger (who began earning €10 million at 26) and Lahm (27) earned through the latter part of that range in their respective careers.
Having played for Bayern since the age of 17, Kroos is something that Thiago, Gotze and even Manuel Neuer never could be: A "Bayern lad," part of a core that includes Muller, Alaba and Holger Badstuber. Symbolically, these players could in a few years be to Bayern what Schweinsteiger and Lahm are at present. This alone should be enough to forgive Kroos for throwing his gloves in anger after being substituted in a recent match with Stuttgart: The Bayern board has in the past looked away when Robben has shown similar petulance and even punched team-mate Thomas Muller, as well as when Ribery was charged with soliciting an underage prostitute.
The trouble for Bayern now is that they may have scored an own goal in allowing negotiations to stall. Although questions can be asked of what would fit Bayern's wage bracket and how much Kroos truly deserves, the player's actual value is dictated only by the market: How much clubs are willing to pay. Had the Bavarians initially accepted Kroos's demands, the door might never have been opened for other clubs to tempt the player with offers perhaps greater than those he himself imagined he could garner.
Right now, the simple truth is that Kroos is in a better negotiating position than Bayern. If the club will not meet his wage demands, he has attractive alternatives. According to the Twitter account of the well-connected Jan Aage Fjortoft, Chelsea have told Kroos that wages would be "no problem" and asked Bayern to name a price. And Bild's Seidel and Kai Psotta (in German) claimed that Manchester United were willing to sign Kroos "at any price." Although he would be leaving a treble-winning team, Kroos would be given more recognition as a big star (both politically and in terms of wages) at clubs that with his signing and potential for future additions would be competitive at the highest level.
Bayern, on the other hand, do not have the same luxury of options. If Kroos turns them down, they can sell him this summer for a value well below his €40 million Transfermarkt valuation or let him go on a Bosman in 2015. It's difficult to find any footballer who offers Kroos's class, let alone his unique skill set. Finding a replacement who would be available, purchasable for a reasonable price and ready to play a key role from the beginning of his contract would be impossible. There's a reason Transfermarkt rates only Arturo Vidal as more valuable than Kroos among midfielders of a similar box-to-box style.
Moreover, any new signing would require wages in the region of Kroos's demands. Last summer's marquee signings, Thiago and Gotze, earn a combined €20 million per year, and it seems that Robert Lewandowski will be the next big Bayern signing to be paid handsomely: In January, Bild's Mario Volpe and Heiko Niedderer (in German) revealed that the Pole will earn €8 million annually when he moves to Munich this summer.
Although steep, Kroos's wage demand has become the benchmark for new Bayern signings: Uli Hoeness and company showed their hand in the Gotze and Guardiola signings, that for the right man they are willing to pay anything. Kroos knows that if Bayern turn him down, they'll be forced pay a transfer fee plus a minimum of €8 million in wages for a replacement who in all likelihood will not offer the same class and who, like Thiago and Javi Martinez before, would need a few months to adapt (and could yet fail). What would at first seem penny-wise would in the end be pound foolish.
Thus is the conundrum that Bayern face. For all the many warnings Kroos has received from pundits (Gunter Netzer (h/t International Business Times) wrote a column in Bild, Mehmet Scholl (h/t Goal.com) spoke on German TV station ARD), the player holds the better cards. He either gets what he wants or leaves for sky-high wages, taking on a role as a cornerstone of a lesser but growing team (United, Chelsea or otherwise) that would hugely benefit from his services.
Bayern, on the other hand, will either submit to Kroos's demands or risk swapping a fan favorite and cornerstone of the club's future image for a replacement who simply could not offer the same qualities and abilities as Kroos, despite in all likelihood costing more.
Retired Bayern captain Stefan Effenberg, who knows very well the importance of central midfielders to a club's success, put it very well when he told Bild (in German): "Bayern absolutely must hold onto Kroos. He is enormously important, not spectacular, but almost flawless. This gives enormous security."
Time will tell whether Bayern will increase their offer or risk finding out the true extent of the security Kroos has to offer when he faces them from the other end of the pitch.