I first met Kramnik during the Moscow Open in 1992. He was a young star with a big future and I was despite the fact that I was only 30 years old the star from the past. Years to come we played a lot of games, but we never actually crossed in the fight for the big honors. I was ahead of him in several super tournaments, but I never seriously considered myself as a contender for the World championship cycle. He however somehow got to play the match with Kasparov and won it convincingly. How he qualified to play with Kasparov is well forgotten.
Looking back to his chess career one may wonder that he had very easy life. I cannot remember him having any big obstacle during his route to the top. His favorite opening line was the one with 1.Nf3 which usually lead to the game with two results. Nobody can win forever, even the best.
The new computer era of chess when players just need to remember the correct lines changed a lot. The 1. Nf3 was not good enough anymore. Kramnik switched to 1.e4. When I saw this my first reaction was, that he was just bored and wanted to spice up the game. I was mistaken. He seriously thought that this is the right thing to do and he may still beat the very best. Now something strange happened. Huge fluctuations in his games and results occurred. He lost his cool. The new approach to his game did not shake his opponents, but backfired.
He could not win the most important tournaments and he could not stop either. I do not have any slightest idea who is or was his second or coach. Knowing the top players and their attitude I am very sure that all these decisions concerning his game and preparations he made himself. Now after catastrophic performance in Wijk he decided to quit after all.
The question remains why his game descended in recent years and why. You cannot have everything. It is not possible to be a family man and a successful player. You need to sacrifice a lot. Most importantly you need to work constantly and add something new. Nobody is the number one by default, you need to prove it every day again and again. Kramnik did not need to do it. He always got the invitations and never had to prove himself to qualify. Yes, he was a former World Champion, but so what. Playing in the inner cycle makes you soft and you may lose the objectivity.
When Kramnik did play the last Russian championship? Why the Russian Olympic team failed to win the Olympiad in last decade or so? Somebody complained, I think it was Karpov, that Kramnik is missing the qualities of being a leader. The answer might be more simple, objectively the Russian team composition was not just good enough to win.
Objectively Kramnik could be easily on the top 20 for next 10 years, if he can return to his 1.Nf3 and dismiss the winning attitude which backfired in recent years. He himself admitted that he cannot. He wants only to win and if this is not possible any more he calls it off. Kasparov had the same exact reasoning. Kasparov however found that computers are leveling the field and this did not suite him.
Botvinnik was famous with his methodology approach to chess. He always pointed out, that one should never repeat his mistakes. I like to share my game with Kramnik back in 1995 when Kramnik lost his objectivity. Very rare occasion back then.