'P*ssing into the wind' - The story of Rodgers, Gerrard and Liverpool's failed bid to sign Kroos

Toni Kroos Real Madrid Liverpool GFX
The Reds tried to buy the Germany international from Bayern Munich in the summer of 2014 but he had already decided to join Real Madrid

Looking back, it was one of Brendan Rodgers’ more ambitious ideas.

It was May 2014, and he was planning to go big. His Liverpool side had narrowly missed out on the Premier League title, pipped at the post by Manchester City, but optimism was high on the red half of Merseyside. 

They were, they believed, back where they belonged. Champions League football was returning to Anfield after a five-year absence, Rodgers had assembled a young, vibrant, attacking team and he planned to improve it significantly that summer.

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At Melwood, he called a meeting with his captain, Steven Gerrard, to discuss his transfer targets. Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, both of Southampton, were likely to join, while Alexis Sanchez, then of Barcelona, was the preferred choice to replace Luis Suarez, who was heading for Camp Nou. 

Rodgers’ next request, though, left Gerrard stunned. 

He asked him to contact Toni Kroos, the Bayern Munich midfielder, and try and persuade him to move to Liverpool. Gerrard laughed. 

Rodgers, he said, simply smiled when he told him they’d be “p*ssing into the wind with this one”. It was, as Gerrard wrote in his 2015 autobiography, a “ridiculously optimistic” notion.

Kroos was heading for superstardom. He would become a World Cup winner with Germany in Brazil that summer. He had already won everything on offer with Bayern and, at 24, was seen as one of the world’s outstanding midfield players. 

He’d been close to joining Manchester United before David Moyes was sacked and replaced by Louis van Gaal. He was about to enter the final year of his contract at Bayern, and was eager for a new challenge, outside of Germany. Real Madrid, the newly-crowned European champions, were the favourites.

“I felt a bit awkward,” Gerrard recalled. “But God loves a trier, and so I gave it a whirl.”

Toni Kroos Steven Gerrard Real Madrid Liverpool GFX

Kroos was respectful, his reply amounting to a ‘thanks but no thanks’. The deal with Real was already agreed. He was off to Spain after the World Cup.  

“He didn’t make me feel like I was a total idiot,” said Gerrard. “We had a nice little exchange of texts and I said well done and good luck.”

“‘We were always onto a loser with that one’, I reminded Brendan.”

Kroos recalled the conversations with Gerrard in an interview with The Athletic last year, and revealed that Suarez, too, had messaged him around that time.

"It wasn't a straight chat-up line,” he said. “But they offered to tell me more about the club and so on.

"The funny thing was, Suarez was about to leave for Barcelona anyway!"

A few months later, Kroos did arrive at Anfield, delivering a midfield masterclass as Real humbled Rodgers’ Reds 3-0 in the Champions League group stages. 

“Regal,” read the report in the Liverpool Echo. “Exceptional,” said The Telegraph. When he was substituted for Asier Illaramendi, nine minutes from time, the Liverpool fans stood and applauded him. “They know class when they see it around these parts,” wrote the Daily Mail

Rodgers, of course, would never get Liverpool to the top of the tree. His reign, so promising early on, would unravel after that fateful summer of 2014. He didn’t get Kroos and he didn’t get Sanchez. Even Loic Remy got away. 

Toni Kroos Raheem Sterling Real Madrid Liverpool GFX

Suarez left and wasn’t replaced. Mario Balotelli was bought, Rickie Lambert struggled and Lazar Markovic, a £20 million ($27.5m) purchase from Benfica, took almost five years to shift. 

Kroos, meanwhile, went from strength to strength at Real, becoming an integral member of the side which won three straight Champions League crowns between 2016 and 2018. 

The third of those, of course, was won against Liverpool, by that point managed by Jurgen Klopp.

In the 2018 final in Kiev, Kroos was again one of the outstanding players, and in last week’s quarter-final first leg in Madrid, he delivered another reminder of his class, helping Real establish a 3-1 lead, which they will defend at Anfield on Wednesday evening.

Few people appreciate Kroos’ talents more than Klopp, who witnessed his emergence at Bayern whilst coach of Borussia Dortmund.

“He’s one of the biggest talents in German football for a long, long, long, long time!” Klopp said when asked about his compatriot by Goal at Tuesday's pre-match press conference.

“From pretty early on, he’s been a great player. He was really young, signed for Bayern, went on loan to Leverkusen, went back to Bayern and played incredible stuff there.

“Then, he made a kind of brave move to go to Real Madrid, and there he has become one of the most successful club footballers in the world – and with Germany became a world champion as well. 

Toni Kroos Jurgen Klopp Real Madrid Liverpool GFX

“So, obviously, he’s had quite a successful career so far, and he’s not really that old either, so there’s quite a lot to come! 

“He’s quite a nice person as well, on top of that, a really relaxed fella. We don’t know each other really well, but I have admired him for years. He’s just a wonderful football player.

“His skills, I’m not sure if you know Bernd Schuster, a German player who played quite successfully in Spain? They are similar players, only Toni is probably even more dynamic, quicker in all the things he does, even if he is not a sprinter.”

Kroos certainly hurt Liverpool last week, his raking long passes setting up Real’s first two goals for Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio. “Genius” was how Klopp described the assist for the former. 

“He is a guy who is really difficult to defend, because he can change the game from really deep areas,” he added. “And when he is high up the pitch then he still has the eye for a pass through the gap, or for a proper finish from distance.

“So, yes, nice package, to be honest!”

He will hope his side have learned from their mistakes in the first leg. Give Kroos space and he will punish you. He’s been doing it all his career. 

And had Rodgers and Gerrard had their way all those years ago, he’d have been doing it in a red shirt, rather than a white one.

If only, eh?