When Lionel Messi went off injured at the Parc des Princes, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on Twitter. As well there might be -- Messi is a genius, his play delights and Barcelona supporters know just how vital he's been to their club's success. If his hamstring trouble turns out to be serious, it'll be a sad day for the sport.
Well, a sadder day. It was already pretty sad to begin with thanks to some unfortunate events at the Allianz Arena, where 23-year-old midfielder Toni Kroos was forced out of Bayern Munich's match against Juventus just fifteen minutes in. And unlike Messi, we already have an idea of how long Kroos will be missing for -- Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has confirmed that Kroos will be missing for around six weeks. His season is in jeopardy.
Compared to Messi, a global celebrity and household name even for those who barely follow football, Kroos is a relative unknown. But even if you don't compare him to one of the sport's great icons, Kroos doesn't get much attention. And that's a real shame, because under the tutelage of Jupp Heynckes he's rapidly maturing into one of the better players in Europe.
There is no other player who better exemplifies the Bayern Munich attack. The Bavarians pick apart defences with a combination of speed, skill and thoughtfulness that tends to rip the opposition to shreds no matter how well organised their defence. Most of their players slot into that system nicely, but few are as adaptable as Kroos -- he can play anywhere in that midfield and acquit himself superbly.
It's no surprise, then, that he's now an entrenched starter at one of the top sides in Europe, but despite his success with Bayern he's yet to receive recognition as a superstar. He's not as flamboyant as the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, doesn't score as often as a Mario Mandzukic and doesn't have the German national team status of Thomas Mueller or Bastian Schweinsteiger. But, in his own quiet little way, Kroos has become a vital cog in the Bayern machine.
And on top of that, he's fun to watch. Really, really fun. Kroos is a player who's just beginning to come out of his shell and show what he's capable of on the pitch, and his play is so focused on efficiency that it's artistic in a way that Ribery's buzzing runs or Robben's ... Robbenness can't match. If you needed an example of intelligent, all-around midfield play, Kroos is your man. His technical ability is from another word, and his skillfulness is matched by vision that, unlike most 'attacking midfielders,' translates into defensive intelligence as well.
Of course, the most incredible thing about this injury is that Bayern can instantly plug the hole created by Kroos' absence by moving Mueller inside and putting Robben on the right wing. There's actually an argument to be made that it helped them against Juventus, who had trouble dealing with Robben's pace and high positioning thanks to their inherent narrowness. Against other teams, they might miss Kroos more, but a front four of Robben, Mueller and Ribery behind Mandzukic is hardly a disaster.
At the end of the day, this actually hurts football fans more than it does Bayern. Toni Kroos is one of the gems of the game, and it looks like we won't get to see him again until August. Mourn.