Why Toni Kroos Is the Wrong Player for Manchester United

Chris Fleming@@Chris__FlemingCorrespondent IMay 20, 2014

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Toni Kroos is an excellent footballer, capable of dictating the tempo of a game with his wide range of passing—but his lack of athleticism and mobility is a concern, which is why he’s the wrong player for Manchester United right now.

Unquestionably, Kroos is superior to all of United’s current midfielders, but there are far cheaper, more valuable options available than the German.

Kroos would cost somewhere in the region of £40 million to sign from Bayern Munich (per Alan Nixon of the Mirror), and his wage demands would instantly make him one of the best-paid players at Old Trafford.

It would require a huge financial outlay to sign a player who, despite being an outstanding footballer, doesn’t have the attributes United need in midfield.

United Need a Midfield Presence, Which Kroos Doesn’t Have

Kroos struggled against Real Madrid's fast, direct football.
Kroos struggled against Real Madrid's fast, direct football.Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

For too long, United have been crying out for some bite in midfield, some presence.

Ever since Roy Keane departed, United have never really had a dominant, take-no-prisoners type of midfielder.

Paul Scholes’ genius was enough to ensure it never became an issue and a combination of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Ryan Giggs covered up the problem in recent years, but United have longed for a midfield general for some time now.

Is Kroos the answer to that enduring problem? No, definitely not.

In Bayern’s two-legged Champions League semi-final versus Real Madrid, Kroos’ weaknesses came to the fore. He didn’t get close to Xabi Alonso or Luka Modric, he didn’t have the mobility to stop Real Madrid breaking on the counter and he never looked like stamping his authority on the game.

Bayern were poor in general and, even though their loss cannot be pinned on Kroos, it’s indicative of his playing style that he lacked authority.

One game in which Kroos did shine, however, was in Bayern’s Champions League last-16 tie against Arsenal. Kroos scored a fabulous goal in a 2-0 win at the Emirates and looked every inch the world-class talent he is; he was the standout player.

But ESPN’s Raphael Honigstein’s insight into the Kroos-Bayern contract negotiations back in February help to shed some light on why he might not be the answer to United’s midfield problems.

While the club value his talent, they’re a bit disappointed he hasn’t become an integral part of the Bayern family, like Lahm, Alaba, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller.Kroos is a little aloof, a little distant, and there’s also a sense that he is held back by his relaxed demeanour. Bayern are, to put it differently, not 100 percent sure he warrants promotion to the highest echelon, in terms of pay packet and status. Both are always linked at the club. 

United don’t need a “distant” midfielder with a “relaxed demeanour.” They need someone who can be authoritative and commanding, qualities which Kroos doesn’t possess.

What’s not in question is Kroos’ ability on the ball.

In the second leg against Real Madrid and in the DFB-Pokal final against Borussia Dortmund, he registered more touches than any other player. Much of Bayern’s play goes through him.

But the system he plays in ensures that he sees a lot of the ball, allowing him to demonstrate his short- and long-range passing.

Undoubtedly, Kroos would inject some creativity into United’s midfield and add a measure of control, but he wouldn’t be afforded the same time on the ball as he is at Bayern. Premier League football is fast and frantic, and Kroos doesn’t necessarily have the attributes to stand up to that.

In addition, Pep Guardiola’s possession football suits Kroos. It’s a slower way of playing the game; technical, of course, but nonetheless slow. United have always played direct football, perhaps out of necessity, and Kroos’ signing won’t change that. 

Ultimately, it comes down to a clash of style between player and club. Kroos’ way of playing fits in with Guardiola’s vision, but that way of playing is not necessarily what United need right now.

Kroos Would Need a Midfield Partner to Do His Defensive Work

Kevin Strootman and Arturo Vidal are closer to what United need right now.
Kevin Strootman and Arturo Vidal are closer to what United need right now.Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Estimates of Kroos’ transfer fee don’t reflect the true cost it would take to get the very best out him, because United would need to buy a defensively minded midfielder who could allow the German to play his natural game.

Neither Marouane Fellaini nor Tom Cleverley are up to that task, and a Carrick-Kroos partnership would not be diverse enough. They are similar players in the way that they use the ball.

United would therefore have to fork out another £30 million or so to land an athletic, mobile midfielder. Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho or Roma’s Kevin Strootman would fit the bill in that regard, but the point is that Kroos’ true price has been underplayed.

It’s essentially the cost of signing Kroos plus the fee of another world-class midfielder.

The alternative is to go for an all-rounder, someone capable of combining defensive mettle with the ability to carry the ball forward.

Juventus’ Arturo Vidal is the obvious candidate for that role, and there are few midfielders in world football better than the Chilean right now; moreover, there are few midfielders who United need more. It is worth nothing, however, that Vidal signed a new contract in December 2013, meaning it would be difficult to sign him.

Should United Make a Move for Kroos?

Kroos is surely key to Guardiola's long-term vision at Bayern Munich.
Kroos is surely key to Guardiola's long-term vision at Bayern Munich.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The smart money would suggest that Kroos and Bayern will eventually find a middle ground regarding the former’s wage demands.

Thiago Alcantara’s knee injury, meanwhile, will keep him out of action over the summer and by the time he regains full fitness, the 2014/15 season will be well underway. That increases the likelihood of Kroos staying at Bayern, given their need for ball-playing central midfielders.

However, if Kroos’ demands aren’t met and he becomes disillusioned with the club, then United seems his likely destination.

He wouldn’t look out of place at Old Trafford, not by any means. Players like Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata would benefit from slicker, more precise passing, and Kroos would be ideal in games against lesser opposition.

But United aren’t likely to suddenly adopt a possession-based style of football, which means Kroos would have to adapt slightly—and it’s questionable that he’s dynamic enough, or aggressive enough, to make that adaptation.

United already have a number of players who do very little defensive work, yet get away with it because of their attacking threat.

Mata, Shinji Kagawa and Adnan Januzaj fall into that category, and assuming that those three feature heavily next season, can United afford to have another player in the starting XI who doesn’t provide defensive cover?

No, and that’s why United must target a more robust, versatile midfielder.

It’s not a slight against Kroos to suggest he’s the wrong player for United; rather, it’s an assessment of what United need to add to the squad over the summer, and Kroos doesn’t fit the bill in that regard.


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