“What was he thinking there?” was a not uncommon thought during Antonio Rüdiger’s five-year tenure at Chelsea, usually meant in an endearing rather than an accusatory way.
Toni certainly had his (seemingly) madcap moments on the pitch, from random two-footed tackles, to suddenly running the full length of the pitch with the ball, to the customary, at least once-per-game shot from 30+ yards. Eventually one of those did go in, in retrospect turning into a signal that his time at the Bridge was coming to an end.
Antonio Rudiger • All the longshots 21/22 pic.twitter.com/bbLv8UQjsY— ᴊᴏᴠᴀᴄɪᴄ (@JovacicStan) August 28, 2022
Of course, to him, those weren’t random moments. Not exactly anyway. As he tells Sport 1, in a wide-ranging two-part interview, they were born of innate desire to entertain, to have some fun, to poke somebody in the ribs and see how they react.
“If there’s a wall, I hit it ten times, but I get through it in the end. I’m a fighter [...] I love to defend and to be awkward. [...] I also love and need the mind games and the trash talk with my opponents, it’s just fun for me. I like to analyze my opponents and think to myself: Okay, let’s see how they react if I provoke them a bit. But it’s not like I pick someone before every game. That happens spontaneously.”
The best instigators in the game can back up their shenanigans with quality on the pitch, and Toni certainly had that in bundles as well, especially under Thomas Tuchel’s guidance. Incidentally, Rüdiger’s turned out right to be wary of Tuchel’s future at Chelsea, as unlikely as that outcome might have seemed for much of 2021 and 2022. You can never quite predict what will happening in football, so you might as well have some fun it while you can.
Plus, if you pump your arms vigorously, you’ll run faster, right?
“I’m doing it because I think I’m faster that way. If people find that amusing, I like to laugh along with them. Many will remember the scene [...] in Chelsea’s game against Newcastle last season. I’ll be honest: I deliberately made a few mistakes because it was just too quiet in the stadium for me during this game. I wanted to wake people up with it.”
-Antonio Rüdiger; source: Sport 1
Antonio “#AlwaysHustle” Rüdiger, a high-stepping, arms widely flailing brick wall that might suddenly chuck one of those bricks in your face, perhaps just to elicit a reaction and see what happens.
Cause a little chaos.
Could use a bit of that energy these days.