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Friday, June 21, 2024

‘Thank you, legend’: Real Madrid pay tribute to Toni Kroos after 10 brilliant years

Real Madrid finished the league season with a 0-0 draw at home to Real Betis. Already crowned champions of La Liga, the result was not important.

What was, however, was the farewell to Toni Kroos, the legendary midfielder who has spent 10 trophy-filled seasons at the club and on Tuesday announced his decision to retire from football after the European Championship.

There were unforgettable scenes in Madrid.

“The Bernabeu has given him the farewell he deserves. It was a great night — very emotional for him and for everyone,” said his manager Carlo Ancelotti at press conference. “We are lucky to enjoy another week with him. He was one of the greatest, obviously.”

“I really enjoyed these 85 minutes,” the 34-year-old summed up after the game.

“I was quite strong until the moment I saw my children, who killed me,” he added.

Kroos’s team-mate Aurelien Tchouameni was one of those to comfort the German’s daughter.

The whole day was about saying goodbye to a club legend. In every direction outside the Bernabeu, there were Real shirts bearing his name and banners paying tribute to Kroos.

Inside the stadium, the gestures of respect and gratitude were multiplied, even though the club made it clear that Kroos himself had asked for his departure to be marked in a discreet way, true to his style.

The fans chanted his name throughout the warm-up, to the point that the midfielder felt compelled to thank them on multiple occasions.

His name was read out last when the starting XI was announced, a place normally reserved for the team’s star player, Vinicius Junior. All the stands were shouting, “Kroos!”

Nobody wanted to miss this, with members of the club who had commitments this weekend cancelling them in order to be there.

So too was Isco, the Betis forward who spent nine years at Real and who travelled to Madrid for the game despite fracturing his leg last week. He went to greet Kroos in the tunnel, on crutches and wearing an orthopaedic boot. “Toni, please don’t retire, let us enjoy you for 2 or 3 more years,” Isco wrote to Kroos on social media in February.

In the Grada Fans’ end, Los Blancos’ largest cheering group, a huge tifo was unfurled: one part was a banner with the image of Kroos, and the number 22 in reference to the titles he has won at the club, with the main trophies pictured; another was the phrase “GRACIAS LEYENDA” (“THANK YOU LEGEND”).

There was a guard of honour from both teams for Kroos, with all his team-mates wearing the No 8 on their shirts.


(Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

As the game was about to start, the cameraman went to Kroos in the middle of the pitch. Again, this is a situation normally reserved for the likes of Vinicius Junior or Jude Bellingham. But, even if this kind of thing makes Kroos feel uncomfortable, it was his night.

His name reverberated around the stands, especially in the eighth minute (the number on his shirt).

One banner went viral, the one that recalled the evening in 2006 when Zinedine Zidane bid farewell to the Santiago Bernabeu. It read: “Referee, don’t blow the final whistle, otherwise Kroos will leave us.”

The match itself was stop-start because Betis were playing for nothing and Real Madrid were thinking about the Champions League final next Saturday. Even their starting line-up was a rehearsal for the game against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.

Betis took the lead late in the first half but the goal was reviewed (and disallowed) by the video assistant referee. While the decision was made, Kroos had the ball in midfield, as if not wanting to waste a moment now that his time as a Real Madrid player was coming to an end.

At half-time, the Germany international looked up to the box where a larger-than-usual number of family and friends were present.

He had completed 59 passes (the most) out of 60 in the first half, with nine passes into the final third. Pure Kroos.

The crowd knew the story was coming to an end, and in the second half his corners were celebrated almost as if he had found the back of the net.


(Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

When Nacho, whose future is up in the air, was substituted, the home-grown player gave the captain’s armband to Kroos, despite the fact that it should have technically gone to Dani Carvajal.

With Luka Modric, who is close to renewing his contract until 2025, warming up, some thought one would replace the other, in what would have been an iconic moment. But Ancelotti, master of masters, had a better idea: to bring Modric and Kroos together for the last time, enjoying their last 11 minutes together at the Santiago Bernabeu.

With Dani Ceballos ready to come on, Kroos asked Ancelotti to wait so he could take one last free kick. It could have produced a goal but resulted in a corner which, of course, Kroos also took.

Then the dreaded and long-awaited moment arrived. The crowd rose to their feet to applaud as Kroos was surrounded by his team-mates while handing the armband to his mate Modric.

On reaching the bench, he embraced every member of staff and his team-mates. The assistant coach Davide Ancelotti, son of Carlo, was in tears.

Hardly anyone was looking at the pitch in those final moments. All eyes went to the video screen, where Kroos was shown embracing his children. When the referee blew the whistle, the team huddled around Kroos and his children in the centre of the pitch.


(Angel Martinez/Getty Images)

Kroos did a lap of honour with them, then had his photo taken with the whole squad.

“It’s not easy, I can only say thank you. I couldn’t ask for more, it’s been 10 unforgettable years,” he said on Real Madrid TV.

When very few people were left in the stadium, he took photos with his trophies, some team-mates and Florentino Perez, the club’s president.

Kroos gave Perez, who was responsible for his transfer in 2014 for a bargain €25million from Bayern Munich, a shirt with the following dedication: “For my dear presi, thank you for everything.”

It was a lovely way for Kroos to end his time in Madrid. Now there is just the small matter of a Champions League final in London before he leaves the club for good.

(Diego Souto/Getty Images)

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