By Ewan Roberts
For so long Toni Kroos appeared destined to become the protagonist of this summer’s greatest, most protracted transfer saga, with the German playmaker at the centre of a tug-of-war between current club Bayern Munich and suitors Manchester United.
The 24-year-old was seen by axed Old Trafford boss David Moyes as the creative, cerebral hub that United had craved since Paul Scholes hung up his boots. It was the Scot who put in much of the leg work towards a potential deal, frequently rumoured to be, and pictured at, Bayern’s matches this season – and usually in conversation with Kroos’s representative, Sascha Breese.
United even used their Champions League quarter-final against die Roten to test the water over a £40 million bid, a gargantuan offer with Kroos’s contract set to expire next year, with the Premier League side’s readiness to double the German’s salary the cherry on the top of United’s charm offensive.
The eyelash-fluttering did not only go one way, either. Kroos had been especially coy on his future at the height of the speculation, saying “much is possible” and lauding the quality of the Premier League, while his brother even admitted to supporting United as a child.
There were also signs that Kroos was not wholly content in Bavaria. Suggestions that he was unhappy with his current wage – less than half of what Mario Gotze earns – were coupled with a flicker of frustration upon being substituted in a 1-1 draw with United at Old Trafford, which was followed by a brief exchange of words with Pep Guardiola on the sidelines.
The interest in Kroos, meanwhile, was not expected to cease upon the arrival of new manager Louis van Gaal; United’s need for a midfielder is no less urgent, while the Dutch coach has a pre-existing relationship with the playmaker, who he handed a prominent role to at the Allianz Arena during their single season together.
That said, Van Gaal has made his own suggestions for squad strengthening and is keen to bring Kevin Strootman to Manchester. The Roma man was described as one of the Netherlands’ three most important players by his national team boss, and is considered to possess more defensive strength and box-to-box qualities than Kroos.
For their part, Bayern have always been unequivocal in their desire to keep a player who joined the club from Hansa Rostock in 2006. “He is sure to play in a Bayern Munich shirt next year,” insisted club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in March – a promise that he has since reiterated.
Guardiola, too, has stressed the importance of retaining a player who has grown in stature in recent years. “I hope he maintains this level of form, and for the next few seasons at this club. He is a young player, a great talent…he has been very important in my first year here.” Before later adding: “He is a superb player and can decide for himself. We want him to stay.”
Up until mid-April, that was the state of play; Bayern were remaining steadfast in their desire to keep Kroos, even if it meant losing him for nothing in 2015, the player himself was non-committal and United were lurking, manoeuvring behind the scenes.
That was until another of Kroos’s representatives, Volker Struth, expressly ruled out a move away from the Allianz. “There has not been any official contract offer,” he told Bild. “And there is absolutely no need to table an official bid either because Toni will stay with Bayern Munich at least until 2015.”
That was followed on Friday by Kroos himself all but ruling out a move entirely. “I would be very surprised [if Bayern let me leave before end of my contract in 2015]. The club was very clear and told me that a transfer in 2014 would not be possible. There have been many speculations, but Manchester United was never an issue and is no issue right now.”
From appearing Old Trafford-bound, he now looks certain to remain at Bayern. The only question that remains is for how long.
Kroos has played his hand perfectly. Either he remains at Bayern for another year and leaves on a free next summer, ready to pick up a significant signing on fee at his next club, or he re-enters contract negotiations with the German champions and agrees a salary more in line with his status at the club – he has, after all, made more Bundesliga appearances than any of his midfield team-mates this term.
The latter outcome would certainly reflect badly on United – who won’t be accustomed to being used in such fashion – and further underlines their decline as a super power of world football in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Until Kroos does sign on the dotted line, however, he will inevitably remain linked with a move to the Premier League, and specifically United. But, for now, the Red Devils appear set to miss out on another midfielder to the might of Bayern, following on from last summer’s failure to sign Thiago Alcantara.