Antonio Rudiger is Chelsea’s certified Hustler – but tying up his contract and securing the German’s services is key to a Champions League and Premier League push

As Antonio Rudiger is out of contract next summer, rumours regarding interest from other European giants have started to rise. And, consequently, so have the preoccupation of the Chelsea board to extend the defender’s contract for him to keep thriving in the Thomas Tuchel project. 

Notably, the German has turned into an indispensable piece of Tuchel’s defensive powerhouse. Since the implementation of the 3-4-3 system, Rudiger has put in standout performances with exceptional regularity. Hence, he has turned into the second player to have the most minutes under the gaffer, just behind club captain Cesar Azpilicuta

Thomas Tuchel has already clarified his position on the ongoing contract extension talks. As most fans do, he hopes that a solution is found, and his fellow countryman stays in London to fight for silverware in the years to come. 

Rudiger celebrating turning Europe blue - Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC
Rudiger celebrating turning Europe blue – Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC

From Lampard’s sidelines to Tuchel’s talisman: the meteoric rise of Antonio Rudiger

When referring to Rudiger’s career at Chelsea since the Tuchel takeover, calling it a transformation has got to be the understatement of the century. Going back to the very beginning, at the start of the 2020/21 season, the German was completely dropped by the gaffer. Under the Frank Lampard administration, Rudiger’s starting numbers speak for themselves: the centre-back only made nine appearances overall, starting in eight of them. 

Most of the time, he did not even make the match day squad, despite being fully fit. At the start of the campaign, all defenders were above Rudiger in starting priority. Kurt Zouma, Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen, and Fiyako Tomori always came first in the pecking order. 

It certainly comes as a shock nowadays, however by the end of 2020, Antonio had just made two Premier League appearances — the Newcastle 2-0 away win, in addition to the draw against Aston Villa — and four out of six Champions League group stage matches. 

Flashback to the summer of 2020, once all transfer activity had come to an end, the team had five defenders available for selection. Due to the excessive number of players competing for the same position, since the formation implemented included only two centre-backs, there were rumours claiming that the German was considering leaving the club. Tottenham Hotspur, Roma, AC Milan, and West Ham were some of the names mentioned as possible targets for the move. 

Once any sort of transfer possibility fell through and Rudiger decided to stay at Stamford Bridge to fight his way back into the starting XI, several talks came up regarding his relationship with Frank Lampard and how it was one of the reasons for his place in the pecking order.

Despite what the public believed to be a strained relationship, in the post-match press conference of the Newcastle clash, the former manager commented on the defender’s display, in an appreciative, encouraging tone. He stated: “I was pleased with his performance.”. Afterward, he added: “I talked about it before the game that a lot of managers would love to have five centre-backs which brings difficulties as you can only pick two if playing in a back four and then two or three are unhappy”.

Rudiger hugs Lampard after the final whistle in the clash against Norwich City, July 14 2020 - Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Rudiger hugs Lampard after the final whistle in the clash against Norwich City, July 14 2020 – Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The difficulty Lampard mentions of dealing with five defenders is on account of his inflexibility and persistence to stick with the same formation, even knowing that would end up harming someone’s development, as they would barely get any minutes throughout the season. And, by a stroke of bad luck, Rudiger seemed to be the one who would have to settle for any given opportunities and work twice as hard to be taken into consideration. Until then, a chance to accommodate the German international in a back three was never considered. 

Thus, it was clear as day he was not part of Frank Lampard’s plans. Less than a few opportunities were given, and even though the team was repeatedly struggling to display solidity in defence, there was almost no partnership innovation in the back four. It was an entirely conscious choice from the former Chelsea midfielder to overlook and neglect the potential of the 28-year-old. 

It is relevant to mention that despite being the last option for his position, professionalism and commitment to the team were never out of the picture. This is why once the turning point of the season — the sacking of Frank Lampard – materialized, it was an unpleasant surprise to hear rumours that he supposedly had something to do with Super Frank’s contract termination. 

Talks claimed the defender had gone to the board of directors and complained about the manager’s situation. Gladly, subsequently, everything was clarified by the player, who commented:

“Frank Lampard trusted in my abilities after Christmas in a very difficult situation, and I was thankful for this. It was also the main reason why I told my representatives not to look for a possible winter move anymore.”

Eventually, this would be the last time in the near future the German would be scapegoated by the media and fans. 

The back three revolution

One season, two completely different visions. Once Thomas Tuchel set foot at Stamford Bridge, every possibility was out in the open. It was the literal meaning of a clean slate – and as it is commonly put, it’s never too late for a fresh start. All of those who had previous issues with the gaffer, such as Rudiger himself, in addition to Marcos Alonso, and Jorginho, would have the opportunity to prove themselves to the new chief in command. 

In the first match of the Tuchel era, an opportunity was given to the defender right away. This time, in a system that allowed him to display the very best version of himself yet seen, fully repaying his fellow countryman’s faith in him. 

Thomas Tuchel praises Antonio Rudiger at full-time after the Zenit Champions League game - John Walton / PA
Thomas Tuchel praises Antonio Rudiger at full-time after the Zenit Champions League game – John Walton / PA

After Rudiger felt like what it meant to be excluded from the squad firsthand, he made sure from the first minute he entered the pitch under the new administration, that it would not happen again. 

His transformation was indisputably the most impactful in the team. The German turned into a leader and solid reference in defence. From January to the end of the season, Rudiger consolidated himself as the heart of the Blues system. 

He proved every game was a battle, and he demonstrated how he played with his heart. From providing defensive security to bringing the ball forward to participate in play build-ups, there certainly isn’t a better definition of first choice material than the German. 

Moreover, as a left centre back, he has thoroughly guaranteed to shut down the left flank at every performance. Additional – and surprising features – have included clipping balls over the top for forwards, and even advancing into midfield in mad runs.

Thus, it is no surprise whatsoever his transformation into one of Europe’s most consistent and reliable centre-backs has attracted the attention of European giants. 

As a matter of fact, even former Manchester United centre-back Rio Ferdinand has commented on Rudiger’s evolution from Lampard’s outcast to Tuchel’s star.

“Since Tuchel’s come, I think he’s been the most commanding centre-back in the league. One of the main reasons for them going and winning the Champions League last season was because of him. Without him, I don’t think they’d have done it.”

More than football: Rudiger standing for what is right

Better than having a world class defender, is to have a world class defender who stands for what really matters. That being so, it is a well known fact that Rudiger has pronounced himself utterly against racism and media aggressiveness multiple times over the years. 

Accordingly, before the Champions League final, a heartfelt tribute named “This Article Will Not Solve Racism in Football” (written by the defender in The Players Tribune) included powerful words on his experiences with racism throughout his career. Some of which include his time at AS Roma, as well as his time at Chelsea, particularly in February 2020, during a clash against Tottenham Hotspur. 

More recently, he suffered virtual attacks once Frank Lampard was sacked, and the media proclaimed him as the reason for the coach’s firing, and for “bringing a bad vibe to the team”. 

In addition, Rudiger has always made clear to everyone where he comes from. His passion, toughness, and courage on the pitch, he puts it out in the open: his background shaped him into who he is, and how he plays. In his article, he comments on his warrior mentality: “I used to play so hard on the concrete pitches there that my shoes had holes in them everywhere. They were basically sandals. I was so aggressive that people started calling me Rambo.”. 

Therefore, if you haven’t read this powerful, wholehearted article, I strongly encourage you to take ten minutes of your time to get to know more about Rudiger’s impactful story, and learn from what he has to say. As he states: “Educate yourself. Read a book on Black history, and really open your mind to the experiences of other people. This is much more meaningful than sending a tweet. This is where we can start.”. 

Ongoing contract talks: The future of Antonio Rudiger at Chelsea

Finally, the reason for concern of Chelsea fans, the board, and Thomas Tuchel’s future plans: the German’s contract talks. As Rudiger’s contract will expire in the summer of 2022, the Champions League and Super Cup champion is set to turn into a free agent soon. 

For that reason, rumours have begun to rise in relation to the interest from clubs such as Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, and Bayern Munich in signing the defender. Considering Los Blancos financial issues, and PSG’s star-overcrowded squad, a comeback to Germany was pointed to be the most likely to happen between the clubs he has been linked to so far. 

It has been confirmed by Goal that Rudiger will stay in Stamford Bridge if the club meets his wages demands. It had been previously commented that the defender was looking for an agreement of an absurd amount of around £400,000-a-week, which was later confirmed as just rumours. 

The real amount being demanded by the defender is close to £230,000-a-week, as he is currently out of the top 10 earners at the club, getting £100,000-a-week. In comparison, Romelu Lukaku, who is the same age as the defender, has a salary approximately three times more than what Rudiger gets now. 

As per Fabrizio Romano: “Talks ongoing – there’s no agreement on salary, but it’s not over as Rudiger is so happy with Chelsea and (Thomas) Tuchel.”. Furthermore, SportBild’s Chrstian Falk has also confirmed if Chelsea want to keep Antonio in West London, the club will have to double their current offer. 

A possible move would mean the desperate need to find a new top centre-back in order to replace the German, which is what is hoped to be avoided. According to Thomas Tuchel, there are not many reasons for Rudiger to change. 

Antonio Rudiger could be option for Bayern Munich as Chelsea contract talks  stall - Bavarian Football Works
Rudiger celebrating his goal against Spurs – Visionhaus/Getty Images

Nonetheless, this particular contract brings a lot of uncertainty and worrying. Even though the defender is keen on staying at the Bridge, it has not been reported he is fully against a move either. Undoubtedly, Marina Granovskaia and co. will have a lot to consider as the next summer window approaches, having to eventually weigh his salary demands and importance to the club’s project

However, Tuchel has already stated he believes the deal is in good hands. And if Chelsea fans know one thing for sure, it is Marina Granovskaia’s assertiveness and unshakeable decision making skills

For that reason, the best that can be done for now is to take the gaffer’s approach: “I’m calm and relaxed – whatever has to happen will happen.”. Being calm and relaxed might be a little complicated, but hoping that Rudiger stays in West London to fight his battles in a blue shirt, and trusting the club’s competence, is undoubtedly the best one can do.

Written by Maria Dulce (@usernamedulce)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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