CHELSEA have completed the £34million signing of Roma star Antonio Rudiger . The centre-back joins the Premier League champions on a five-year deal and will wear the No.2 shirt next season. Born in the German capital Berlin to a German father and Sierra Leonean mother Rudiger would have been eligible to represent both countries but has gone on to play for the country of his birth. He grew up on the streets of Berlin & played for a number of youth teams in Berlin before joining Borussia Dortmund aged 15 in 2008. But after three years of development, Dortmund decided to let him go to Stuttgart, and that’s where he made his breakthrough. Rudiger first served his time playing for Stuttgart’s second team in the third division, but is quickly became apparent the teenager was ready to make the step up to the Bundesliga. His top-level debut came in January 2012 against Borussia Dortmund and the first team opportunities started the flow the following season.
Stuttgart were a mid-ranking side during his time there, but this enabled Rudiger to stand out in an inconsistent defence – and it was enough to get him noticed by Italian side Roma. After 80 appearances for Stuttgart in domestic and European competition, Rudiger moved to the Italian capital in 2015 in a deal initially worth £3.5million. Following a solid debut season in which he was pretty much an ever-present in Serie A, Roma exercised their option to officially sign Rudiger for a further £7.9million.
Unfortunately, it appears Rudiger’s decision to leave Roma this summer has much to do with the racial taunts he was subjected to last season. In the Rome derby back in March, he was targeted by Lazio fans to such an extent that the Stadio Olimpico announcer had to appeal for calm. And in the previous meeting between the clubs back in December, Lazio left-back Senad Lulic sparked outrage with racial remarks following Roma’s 2-0 win. Lulic said: ‘Two years ago, he was selling socks and belts in Stuttgart. Now he acts like he’s some phenomenon. ‘The racist connotations were as obvious as they were offensive. Depressingly, Lulic was able to agree a plea bargain with the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and he only missed one game through suspension. Rudiger eventually spoke out on the issue of racism after further incidents involving Sulley Muntari and Medhi Benatia. “I take this very seriously because I cannot and must not ignore something like this,” he told Bild in May. “I am part of this too. Racism is a serious issue here… “When the Italian FA is not doing anything then FIFA must act. It is easy to come up with the ‘No to racism’ campaign but when you don’t do anything concrete, then that does not help.” Rudiger had said what many people had been thinking for some time but he was frustrated at having had to become a spokesman on race relations. It was not a role he had expected to have to fulfil when he had moved to Italy. He had come to Serie A to learn, to improve as a defender. And he had done just that.
Rudiger played for Germany’s youth teams from under-18 level up to under-21 standard. His displays with Stuttgart attracted the attention of national team manager Joachim Low and Rudiger made his senior debut in a goalless draw with Poland just before the 2014 World Cup. Joachim Low rated him highly, even comparing him to Jerome Boateng, and Rudiger would have represented Germany at Euro 2016 had injury not intervened. The cruciate ligament damage that he suffered in training on the eve of his first major tournament also scuppered his proposed move to Chelsea. In all, he has won 17 caps for his country and was part of the squad that won the FIFA Confederations Cup out in Russia last weekend. Rudiger was in the German back line for all but one of their games and Low’s team lifted the trophy after a 1-0 win over Chile on Sunday night. While regarded as a German ‘B’ team, a consistency of performance at Chelsea next season should certainly earn Rudiger a call up for the 2018 World Cup squad, as Germany defend their title.
Rudiger’s Style of Play
Standing at 6ft 3in tall, Rudiger certainly won’t be fazed by aerial battles and should take the physicality of the Premier League in his stride. With strength and an athletic physique, Rudiger should prove more than a match to most forwards though he may need to improve his touch and passing attributes to play his full part in Conte’s side. Rudiger has often been compared to his compatriot Jerome Boateng, but he insists he has his own style. Though primarily a centre-back, Rudiger has proved he can fit in capably right across the back line. In addition to seemingly being made out of iron, Rüdiger possesses the explosive speed and power to enable a team to play a high line. His athleticism makes him the bookie’s favourite to most 50-50 balls, be it on the ground or in the air. He relishes the physical battle. Just ask Mario Mandzukic. As far as Rüdiger is concerned, the bigger and badder the opponent, the better. It’s the little players, with a low centre of gravity, that put him in difficulty. Think Lorenzo Insigne. Intuitive, his tactical understanding and reading of the game have improved dramatically since moving to Italy.
But what coaches like Spalletti and Conte find most attractive of all is his versatility. Roma played a back four and a back three in Rüdiger’s time at the Olimpico. They flipped between configurations in-game. Rüdiger never had one fixed position. His preferred role, as the left centre-back in a back-three – where Gary Cahill plays for Chelsea – was the one he played the least. Often Rüdiger featured a la Victor Moses as a right wing-back. He may not have the same ball-playing ability as Luiz, Boateng, Hummels or Bonucci, but Spalletti would not have asked him to step out of defence, and make driving runs into midfield or up the flank, if he were not comfortable with the ball at his feet. You can understand why Roma fans are disappointed to see him go. A tough-tackler, discipline can be an issue and he received two straight red cards during his time at VfB Stuttgart for violent conduct. This season, he has picked up six yellow cards in 18 appearances for Roma, having returned from his injury after less than five months in late October. He was sent off in the Europa League match vs. Villarreal earlier this year. “I am hard against the ball, but fair against my opponents,” he said in 2014. Rudiger has also had three major knee surgeries in his young career. He was twice operated on for meniscus problems in 2014 and 2015, with the latter surgery nearly jeopardising his move to Roma that summer.
While Roma are turning a big profit on Rüdiger, Chelsea look like they’re getting value too. For £34m, the English champions are effectively signing three players in one. Sure, Rüdiger isn’t John Terry, but he is the identikit of a Conte defender.
We also like to end this article with a skills video of him in 2017.