"I think that Kroos is the engine of Real Madrid. He has a way of playing that reminds me a lot of myself. He is like my successor on the field."
None other than former Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez stated those sentences to Sportbild about Real Madrid's Toni Kroos.
Some might think that the comparison sounds bizarre, as the legendary Spanish maestro chose a tall, blond and athletic German in Kroos as his successor on the field -- especially since that player plies his trade for rivals Madrid.
Others, more malevolent, may think that Xavi is simply trying to stay current by comparing himself to one of the best midfielders in world football right now.
A third group arguably might point at the obvious differences in style between the two -- Kroos has a better command of both legs and his long-range passing is more solid, whereas Xavi knew better how to manage the tempo of every match -- to conclude that Kroos probably plays more similarly to Xabi Alonso than to Xavi.
All those opinions may have a point, but they all miss the value of Xavi's words -- his gut feeling that Kroos is the force leading Real Madrid's offensive moves.
At his apex, that was Xavi's most inimitable skill. He could dictate proceedings, pace and movement of the ball, picking defences apart by selecting their weakest link and building plays that punished that weakness. He did not need to be physically imposing, or switch the ball from side to side with 20- to 30-yard lobs. He simply exchanged short passes with his teammates and created situations that were from hard to impossible to defend.
It does not matter that Kroos can shoot from outside the box, or that his left foot obviously is more accurate than Xavi's. Now that this season is about to end, what has impressed the Catalan midfielder the most is that he can see traces of his own playing self when he watches the German ace directing Real Madrid's offense. And he's right.
Partially hidden by Zinedine Zidane's rotation policy and the brilliance of the subs, some may have missed the gem of a season that Kroos has had. He's reached his best year ever in terms of assists (12), having played 250 fewer minutes than in the previous season and 500 fewer than in his first year with Real.
His passing completion percentage stayed over 90 percent in both top tournaments, La Liga and the Champions League. And he's also scored four times this season, more than in his two previous seasons in Madrid combined. The German midfielder has benefited enormously from Casemiro's help, and has found the way to move forward and get the best out of his outstanding passing.
A plus-90 percent passer himself, Xavi has recognised some of his skills in Kroos. And those are the type of skills that may not get you in the headlines, but are key to winning titles. Xavi's ability to influence what happened on the pitch and make the game be played exactly where his team had the advantage led him to star in one of both Barcelona's and the Spanish national team's best spells in history, if not the best for both.
Kroos is replicating Xavi's stunning trophy collection at an amazing pace, as, at age 27, he already has four league titles, two Champions League crowns and a World Cup.
However, the German midfielder still is one level below Xavi in terms of controlling the game. In a few matches this season, his team has missed his leadership when he was on the pitch, as he still struggles sometimes to dictate the tempo when the stakes are high and the opposition presses with intensity.
However, he has plenty of time to become even more dominant than he already is. And if Spain's most successful maestro believes he's on the right track, there can't be many arguments about it.