Toni Kroos' long and drawn-out transfer saga is nearing its end, it seems, with Real Madrid apparently having secured the player's transfer from Bayern Munich.
Marca reported on Monday that the player had accepted a five-year contract at the Bernabeu with a net annual salary of €5 million. And on Thursday, the Spanish newspaper revealed that Bayern had accepted a €25 million offer from Los Blancos. It may not be until after the World Cup that the deal is officially announced, but at this point it appears that it's a matter of "when" and not "if."
Bayern's midfield now has a Kroos-sized gap that could pose a serious problem as they aim to reestablish themselves as one of Europe's most dominant teams in 2014-15. They should be able to retain their Bundesliga title on depth alone, but the Champions League is another story. The addition of Robert Lewandowski won't compensate for the loss of Kroos, a midfielder who has been hugely important for the Bavarians over the last four seasons.
Without Kroos, Bayern will have Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, Sebastian Rode and Pierre Hojbjerg as options competing for two or three spots, depending on how aggressively or conservatively coach Pep Guardiola approaches any given game. That isn't enough.
Schweinsteiger and Thiago are both very injury-prone; per Transfermarkt, the former missed 28 games and the latter 47 through injury in 2013-14. And although Thiago's best years are still ahead of him, Schweinsteiger turns 30 in August and will need a long-term replacement before long—especially considering his recurring ankle problems.
Martinez also is not exactly renowned for his fitness record (he missed 29 games through injury last season), but his biggest obstacle is convincing Guardiola that he's a suitable holding midfielder. The trainer only started him in 10 matches in the centre of the park during 2013-14, more often than not either benching his compatriot or using him in defence.
That leaves the largely unproven Rode and Hojbjerg. The former was signed on a free transfer, and as he nears the age of 24, he still has not convinced Joachim Low enough to give him a call-up to the German national team. He has also never played in the Champions League. To depend on him to produce would therefore be a big risk.
The same risk would be taken in trusting Hojbjerg, who turns 19 in August, with the burden of being a regular starter in Guardiola's team. The Dane may be talented, but not even Kroos or Thomas Mueller had the quality to, at 19, be a full-time starter at senior level. Relying on him in such a key role so long before his prime years would be a big risk for both the club and the player's physical and mental health. To date, he's played just 413 minutes of professional football—about 4.5 games.
Therefore, it can be concluded that Bayern need a new option in their midfield. And of those who could be available, Arturo Vidal is the best option. The player has a history with the Bavarians, who were keen to sign him in the summer of 2011. But Bayer Leverkusen refused to sell the Chilean to their Bundesliga rivals, instead electing to send him to Juventus.
Then-Bayern president Uli Hoeness slammed Vidal for breaking his word, claiming (via Goal.com) the player had agreed he would either join Bayern that summer if sold by Leverkusen or the following summer on a free transfer. Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge later told Kicker (h/t Goal.com) he "would rather not have such players at Bayern Munich."
Time heals all wounds, though, and Vidal has since developed from a prospect for whom Juventus were willing to pay €12.5 million into a world superstar. A recent report from Tuttosport (h/t SportBild) claimed the Bavarians were willing to spend €40 million to sign the 27-year-old Vidal, with Xherdan Shaqiri a possible offering in a cash-plus-player deal.
Vidal is currently in the prime years of his football career, and considering his experience for Chile and Juventus, he could be depended upon immediately upon his arrival. He's a complete player, one who has the power, strength and tenacious pressing ability that is so critical in today's game, as well as great skill on the ball.
Like Kroos, Vidal is naturally a number eight, a midfielder who is not exactly an anchor but not a playmaker. He's just the right player to link between the lines, bringing the ball from defence into attack. But the Chilean plays his position differently from Kroos. He's explosive, can dribble through the midfield and makes runs into the penalty box that make him more effective in the final third.
Last season, Vidal scored 18 goals and assisted five more. Kroos only hit the target three times and provided seven assists.
Vidal is also a much better defender (via WhoScored.com, his average of 4.7 tackles per game was superlative in the 2013-14 Champions League) than Kroos, and his athleticism and work rate making him one of the best ball-winners in the world.
One of Bayern's greatest problems last season was a lack of balance in midfield, with too many passing players and too little in defence. The occasionally-used combination of Thiago and Kroos, two players who tend to aim for a minimum of 100 touches of the ball per game, was at times superfluous and left only one defensive player to screen for the back line. Whereas Kroos needs the ball to be effective, Vidal can let Thiago pull the strings while maintaining tactical balance in midfield and making timely runs forward.
As it stands, Bayern's options are relatively limited. Juve have another great midfield option in Paul Pogba, but recent news (particularly from his agent, via Sky) point to the Frenchman remaining in Turin for at least one more season. Elsewhere, qualified and available central midfielders are few and far between.
One thing is for sure: Bayern cannot afford to let Kroos go and not have a ready-made replacement. Guardiola inherited a treble-winning team, one that reached the Champions League final in three out of the previous four seasons. He signed a three-year contract during which he was meant to take the club to the next level, perpetuating its success and ensuring its long-term future.
After Bayern's 5-0 aggregate humiliation at the hands of Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the 2013-14 Champions League, the club cannot afford to go into another "rebuilding" phase—especially with Philipp Lahm, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Dante and soon Schweinsteiger the wrong side of age 30. Kroos will be a big loss, but Vidal is the best option to minimize the hurt and reestablish Bayern's international dominance at least until those from the old guard retire.