Toni Kroos: “If we want to win things, we have to improve.”

Toni Kroos sat down for an interview with MARCA ahead of Germany’s match against Spain in the UEFA Nations League. Toni discussed various questions about Real Madrid, Zidane, squad rotation, international football as well as the European Super League.

What have Real Madrid given to you for you to feel so identified with Real Madrid?

When I arrived, the whole club – not just my teammates and coach – and the fans transmitted towards me a feeling of happiness because of the fact that I was with them. That’s not normal. In Germany, you have to play well first before they’re happy with you, but at Real Madrid, I had the feeling that they were already happy with me there, whether I play well or not. That made me feel good and gave me confidence to play well from the start.

Was the call from Carlo Ancelotti the deciding factor?

In 2014, they won the Champions League, so you can imagine. Ancelotti calls me and tells me he wants me in his club to improve his team. Imagine, these were the Champions League winners. I had all his confidence and that was the key to starting so well and not having pressure. I thought, they already had confidence in me and that helped me to do well from the first game. That was how my first season went. No trophies, but it was very good.

German players have always had success at Real Madrid, so the fans ask why they don’t sign more German players.

That’s not a question for me. Players of my era like Sami Khedira spoke very well of Real Madrid to me. I also spoke, a long time ago, to Gunter Netzer, the former Real Madrid player, and he told me that it was a good place, not just to play but also to live. I only heard good things about Madrid and Real Madrid. Why are there not more Germans here? That’s not for me to say [laughs].

Since you arrived, you seem very well settled in Madrid. What has the city given to you?

Yes, it’s true. The city is very important, but it’s more about who I live with, with who you’re with all day – at home and at work, which can help you feel at home. If you have that, you enjoy yourself. It doesn’t matter where, but this is Madrid of course… The weather makes a difference as well; it’s very different to Germany. I don’t live in the city centre. There are lots of people. You have family and, sure, you need to go out with them and everyone recognises you. I like being recognised by fans because they’re very positive and very big fans of Real Madrid, but sometimes you want to go out in private…

Do you feel respected by the fans?

A lot. Always. They ask you for autographs and photos. It’s good because they love you. Sometimes you want to go out in peace and that’s a bit more difficult. That’s why we don’t live in the city centre. I like peace because it’s in my nature. We’re very happy in Madrid.

Now we’re speaking Spanish better and everything is easier. My wife, for the first few years, didn’t speak it and everything was more difficult. Not speaking the language, with barely any contacts… you leave your country at 24 and it’s a very big change, but we did well. It helps if you’re doing well at work and you end up bringing that home.

Why does this Real Madrid team lack consistency?

Well, in the end, we do lack something. That’s not a secret. Everyone can see it. We’re not missing a lot… we need to be consistent. If you look at the results, they go two good, one bad, two good, one bad. We have to do better. You watch some games and you realise that you can do much better – against Barcelona, the first half against Inter and another one.

We can, of course, improve, but we lack consistency. If we did well against Barcelona, we also have to against Cadiz or Shakhtar Donetsk at home. There’s a big difference. Sometimes it’s very good and others it’s very bad. We have to improve if we want to win something.

What is the team missing?

We’re going through a very strange situation for everyone. We’re playing every three days, we had little time off, we ended last season very late, we couldn’t sign players in the summer… Now there are injuries, some have to stop because of COVID, but I don’t like finding excuses. We put out a starting line-up that can beat the opponent in every game.

I have no doubts. Why don’t we do it? We have to find solutions to improve. It’s not something general; it’s specific things or situations in each game and that’s why we have to react. The truth is that, as a team, if we want to win things, we have to improve. And we’ve already seen how good we can be.

Is there reason for the fans to have some hope that your fortunes can change?

If you look at how good we can play, of course. Sometimes you can lose, not play well – that can happen – but the opposite happens more than we’d like and we can’t allow it.

As a player, do you understand squad rotation? Do you like it when you’re not playing for a game?

In the end, you can never be pleased at not playing a game. And I can say that and every player thinks that. In the end, I understand the coach because we’re playing every three games. We don’t stop and more so this season. It’s not going to be for two or three months like after the pandemic.

It’s going to be until the end of the European Championship. I understand the boss has to rotate sometimes. As a player, you have to accept it and when it’s your turn to play, you do your best. When you’re good physically and mentally, you always want to play, but you have to accept the rotations or the rest.

Do you understand why Zidane is being questioned?

Everyone knows that if you don’t get results and don’t meet expectations at Real Madrid, there are questions. That’s why we’re at this club. It’s normal. With Zidane, we’ve already had times like this and we normally come out of bad runs.

A few weeks ago, after losing against Cadiz and Shakhtar, we went to Barcelona and had an amazing game. We got through that and the boss is the first person to know what happens at this club if you don’t get results. In the end, what we have to do is improve and try to win games. The boss will find the solution.

You’re with Germany right now. Do you think Bayern Munich are ahead of the rest of the teams in Europe and that Real Madrid are going to struggle in Europe this season?

What we can say is that, without doubt, Bayern have been the best team in the world in the last few months. I have no doubts. Real Madrid were like that for a few years and we know it’s difficult. It’s impossible to win for 10 years running. Real Madrid were the best team in the world for two or three years.

Now it’s Bayern and that doesn’t speak badly of us. If you see how they’ve played in the last few months… there’s no game that they didn’t win by four goals. They won the Champions League and, for me, whoever wins that is the best team in the world because it’s the most difficult competition to win. They are better than us, but that’s not a problem right now because we’re not playing in their league and we’re not playing against them in the Champions League, at least for the moment.

Do they have more pace?

They have a rhythm and a very good high press. We have to accept that there are better teams than us at the moment.

Spain and Germany play each other next week. Who do you think is the best team at the moment?

I think the two teams are more or less the same. The last two games that we’ve faced each other have ended in 1-1 draws. Both teams have changed a bit in the last few months. We made changes after the 2018 World Cup, at least much more than others did. That being said, both teams have a few problems at the moment.

Will Spain and Germany return to the top?

They’re two projects with lots of quality and it’s going to turn out well, I’m sure. I don’t know if it’ll be in the next year, at the European Championship, but I’m convinced about it long-term. There’s a lot of talent. Germany, I’m sure about, and Spain, when I watch some of the players they have in LaLiga, I don’t doubt it either.

The two countries are going to be at the top and I’m not saying that because it’s my country and the one I’m living in. I’m saying it because I like teams that want to play good football. It’s not just those that sit deep and play on the counter that win. When I don’t play, I follow teams that try to play football and that’s why I think these two have very good futures.

Toni Kroos worries a lot about what’s around him, which is why he has a foundation, is it not?

For the last five years, I’ve had a foundation in Germany for children who are ill. I have the chance to help the dreams that they have and that they can’t achieve or that they have no way of achieving. Parents also have tough times and I’m speaking as a father. Life is tough and if you don’t have money, it’s even tougher.

If I can help to change things in their lives or to fulfil the children’s dreams that their parents want them to achieve, but they can’t, I will do it. You experience emotions that you it’s difficult to explain. When you tell them that they’re going to have help, you realise that it’s more important than football. I’m not going to stop doing it, ever. I’ll stop playing football, but I won’t stop helping.

Can do clear up your thoughts on the European Super League?

What I wanted to say was that there are positive things in it, without doubt. We’re going to see lots of high-level games that we only see in Champions League semi-finals. And we all like those games. It’s going to be very interesting for the fans of a team and for those that don’t properly support one. Everyone likes watching football at the highest level. We also have to care for the smaller clubs. Everyone is very competitive. The Super league is another thing. I’m more worried by other things.

What other things?

That they’re creating more competitions. We have two or three weeks where there aren’t any games and I’m sure FIFA and UEFA are going to find a new competition. That worries me for the health of all the players. Playing every three days means you’re playing tired and that the games don’t have the level that we want. It’s like playing another Club World Cup with 20 teams. I don’t think it’s necessary. There’s nothing more to squeeze out of us. The players aren’t going to like it.

To finish… will you retire at Real Madrid?

I’ll try. I’m still doing well physically. Two years ago, I had a tough season. Now, I’m a bit better and we’re going to stay for a bit longer [laughs].

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