Toni Kroos admits Real Madrid found it difficult to adjust when Cristiano Ronaldo departed for Juventus but considers the Blancos to be like Roger Federer when it comes to proving doubters wrong.
Many have been quick to write the ageing Santiago Bernabeu giants off since a five-time Ballon d’Or winner opted to take on a new challenge in Italy during the summer of 2018.
Replacing Ronaldo was always going to be an impossible task, but coping without him initially proved trickier than anyone in the Spanish capital could have imagined.
Changes in the dugout and on the field have been made over the course of the last 18 months, with Real still searching for the formula they found when the club’s all-time leading goalscorer was dominating the headlines.
Progress has been made in 2019-20, though, and Kroos has warned that, like tennis great Federer, Madrid will continue to find a way of upsetting the odds and maintaining a standing at the very top of their sport.
The World Cup winner told The Athletic: “A lot of us didn’t play our best football last season.
“After three Champions League wins in a row, you could perhaps expect to lose a bit of sharpness and it took us time to adjust to the loss of the 40 or 50 goals Cristiano Ronaldo guaranteed each year.
“But at Real Madrid, that’s unacceptable. When we were knocked out by Ajax [in the last 16], many suggested that was the end of this team. We were written off as over the hill but that only provided extra motivation for us to prove them all wrong.
“It reminds me of the way people look at [Roger] Federer. When he was 34, everybody was sure that was it for him, and then again at 36, but he just keeps on playing as if he’s 28. You don’t lose your quality. And we’re not that old yet.”
Kroos credits the return of Zinedine Zidane to the Madrid bench with helping to get Real back on the track, with the Frenchman having taken a break in the same summer as Ronaldo left.
“He owns the dressing room thanks to his natural authority,” Germany international Kroos said of his boss.
“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.”