Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Athletic in Madrid, Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos discusses Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pep Guardiola and almost joining Manchester United.
Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane
He owns the dressing room thanks to his natural authority. There’s nothing forced, no act. That’s extremely important. Especially at a team like Real Madrid, you need to get the players behind you. Everyone needs to feel valued and part of it. That’s not easy because some will play more than others but he does it extremely well.
When I arrived in 2014, we were essentially a counter-attacking side, dropping deep to create space for Gareth [Bale], Cristiano [Ronaldo] and Karim [Benzema] to make deep runs. But under Zidane, our philosophy has changed. He wants us to have the ball, and he wants us to win it back quickly. We attack the opposition high up and there is more structure to our game. I prefer it that way. I’d like to have the ball and make opponents run for it rather than run after the ball for 80 per cent of the game and playing two or three decisive passes. That wouldn’t satisfy me. I’ve really benefited [from Zidane’s tactics]. We all have. He deserves a lot of credit for changing the style and for integrating players that fit well into it
On Cristiano Ronaldo
His favourite position was on the left. He sometimes played through the middle or next to another striker, but he loved starting from the left and cutting inside best. It came with the freedom of not having to track back all the time. Almost without fail, he justified having that freedom. The other 10 players knew he would not always come back – Marcelo and I had to chip in (with more running) sometimes.
On Pep Guardiola
He was the key figure for German football and for me personally. He opened everybody’s eyes to the importance of control. Many coaches and club officials came to [the Bayern Munich training ground at] Sabener Strasse to see his sessions and talk to him about his novel way of playing. Midfield was always his main concern. Because of the brilliance of his team’s football, the perception changed. People began to see football and midfielders in a completely different light. He was a trailblazer, for coaches and supporters alike.
If you ask the players at Bayern today, they will still tell you he’s the best coach they’ve ever had in a sporting sense, and they’ve had plenty of others to compare with. I loved playing for him that one year.
On the possibility of working with Pep again
I want to finish my career at Madrid, so I’d say it’s very unlikely but I loved playing for him and could have renewed my contract at Bayern, of course. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to sign a deal just because of the manager, however. Pep wanted me to renew but what would have been the point of me signing a five-year deal if the manager was off again soon?
On almost joining Manchester United
David Moyes had come to see me and the contract had basically been done but then Moyes was fired and Louis van Gaal came in, which complicated matters. Louis wanted time to build his own project. I didn’t hear anything from United for a while and started having doubts. Then the World Cup started and Carlo Ancelotti called. And that was it.