Last summer, Chelsea finally secured the signature of young centre back Antonio Rüdiger after a roughly two-year courtship. It didn’t take long for him to settle and win his spot on the left side of Conte’s three-man defence, embodying his ubiquitous #Hustle and #AlwaysBelieve hashtags from social media in real life.
He’s continued to do so under Sarri as well, steadily growing to become the beating heart of not just the backline but the dressing room as well. Teammates almost unilaterally name him as the loudest, most boisterous presence, an essential ingredient in any good mix of teammate chemistry.
That he’s able to be his normal self, with his silly dances and assorted shenanigans, apparently means that he’s truly feeling at home.
“If I know people and I’m with them every day, it’s different, then I’m myself, but if I’m somewhere new then I’m shy, yes. Then, slowly, slowly you get in touch with people and then you will be fine. Now I feel good, I like it here.”
It’s tough to imagine a shy Rüdiger, and it sounds like he doesn’t actually mean shyness in the strictest sense. It sounds like he’s simply willing to observe and understand, to be open and respectful, qualities that are increasingly lacking in modern society.
“I grew up in an area with a lot of refugees. There was a real mix of people, but normally not many German people, more foreigners. It was tough because, in those types of places, everyone has their own mind, way of thinking, their own culture. That’s a good thing as well because now I’m open to every culture.
“But sports, in general, bring people together. There, you speak one language, and from my point of view it was football that did that. We had a little football cage in the neighbourhood and that’s where I started playing. All the kids went out there and we had tournaments, it was competitive – you had a lot of skilful guys there and it was always interesting.”
The one language spoken around Stamford Bridge these days is Sarrismo, and Rüdiger’s picking it up very quickly with a sting of steadily impressive performances keeping Chelsea opponents at bay. He looks a natural fit, even if he actually started out as a striker early on.
“At first, it was something completely different to play in defence. I think it’s more responsibility to play there because, at the end of the day, if you concede there’s always the defenders to blame.
“But I’m not afraid to make mistakes and keep going – that’s not a big deal. Mistakes happen and you just have to go on. It’s just about learning quickly what the coach wants and then trying to do that in a good way. I always have to move forward in life.”
“Maurizio Sarri likes to have a bit of possession as well, but this kind of football, pushing up and attacking – I like that, because I have the abilities to do that. I have the speed to get back.”
-Antonio Rüdiger; source: Chelsea FC
At just 25 years of age, Rüdiger looks more than capable of carrying on the legacy of defensive excellence at Chelsea for a long while yet!