Talking Toni: The Reality of Rudiger’s Situation

As namesake Antonio Mateu Lahoz pressed the whistle to his lips after 97 minutes of a pulsating Champions League Final, Antonio Rudiger did something no one else did. The energy sapping match to end all did not stop the German defender from running the length of the field boundlessly in pursuit of the Chelsea fans, his people. A full catharsis this was for a player who, unlike any other, enjoyed a season of unparalleled undulation. Fast forward six months and the Blues’ number two shows game after game why he is considered one of the planet’s best defenders. For a player whose heart is firmly planted on his sleeve, inextricably linked to the quality he shows weekly, he stands at a contractual impasse with a club who he helped to the top of Europe.

Antonio Rudiger defines the grit, determination and quality of European Champions Chelsea. Credit | Sky Sports
Warrior at the Back: Antonio Rudiger defines the grit, determination and quality of European Champions Chelsea. Credit | Sky Sports

Rudiger: The Situation

The Athletic were at the forefront of news over the last few months with respect to Rudiger. Reporting in June, the publication pointed to the defender being ‘no closer to agreeing a new deal’ with Chelsea. Carry this forward to the Super Cup in August, he was pointed in his pre-match interview when saying talks had begun but was tight lipped as to whether they were positive or not.

The West London side, run by the erudite yet reticent Marina Granovskaia, is a club that keeps its cards firmly upon its chest. Rudiger, similarly, is one at pains to keep private matters just that: private. Perhaps fueling the rumour mill, much has been claimed about the former Stuttgart and Roma player. Purported demands of eye-watering salaries and courting the who’s who of Europe’s elite paint the picture of a player keen to court the highest bidder.

An insightful sit down with The Guardian’s Jacob Steinberg largely put paid to these impressions. ‘A lot of people don’t know me’ are his first words to his interviewer. This is perhaps the most fitting summation of where Rudiger stands presently. This is a 49-cap German international with over 100 Premier League appearances, an FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League title to his name. A calibred professional no less, it’s his reputation on the pitch that has arguably been unfairly transferred off it.

Rather than being painted as a greedy player after the highest bidder, the realities of his situation cannot be ignored. One who will be 29 in March next year, the next contract he signs will be the last big one of his career. Thus, a financial responsibility to himself and his family, something the passionate, deeply emotionally conscious Rudiger will be acutely aware of, is at the forefront of his mind.

Ending his in-depth interview, the Chelsea man leaves a lasting, emotive and powerful thought about life in London: he is happy to be at Cobham daily.

Chelsea: The Long View

An objective viewer of Antonio Rudiger’s situation may surmise it with one word: uncomfortable. For a club of Chelsea’s standing, losing a player of world class standard for free in less than twelve months is awkward. That the player is such a key component of a high-class Chelsea defence which was a major reason for continental success makes it doubly so.

However, this isn’t exactly foreign territory for Granovskaia. A shrewd negotiator and defender of the club’s stance, she has a track record of protecting Chelsea’s interests. Internal negotiations and contract renewals notwithstanding, a summer outlay in 2020 recruiting some of Europe’s elite talent was rubber stamped with the capture of Romelu Lukaku for a club record fee.

That aside, the contractual situations of players like David Luiz and Thiago Silva prove that last minute deals are not out of the question. There is nothing to suggest that Rudiger re-signing is no longer possible.

However, in as much as the German defender holds the cards for his future, Chelsea likewise does for theirs. Courtship of a player like Sevilla’s Jules Koundé and links to Mathijs de Ligt of Juventus are indicators that should this situation end in a worst-case-scenario, contingencies are in place.

While the financial implications of investing in younger players like Koundé or de Ligt would be more significant than committing to Rudiger, there are also a plethora of younger players who could step into the left centre back role that has become the German’s own. Trevoh Chalobah has had a standout first season so far at Chelsea. There is the potential for him to follow in Rudiger’s stead should a replacement not be forthcoming.

Similarly, the Cobham production line seemingly halts not. Levi Colwill, though very young at just 18, is one earmarked for great things. A left centre back by trade as well, Colwill has an example in Chalobah as well as Reece James, Mason Mount or Callum Hudson-Odoi to draw on if he is to ultimately step into the shoes left by Rudiger. Xavier Mbuyamba, recruited from Barcelona in 2020, is another who plies his trade in Chelsea’s youth setup who could be considered.

Granovskaia will be acutely aware of these situations. In as much as Chelsea fans are desperate for Rudiger to stay, the Chelsea chief will know the club’s position, will protect its interests, and look to find the perfect marriage for both the club and Rudiger, provided all parties align.

Rudiger: Why He Needs to Stay

The form Antonio Rudiger is in now is symbolic of the player he has been for Chelsea over the last 10 months. Tenacious, aggressive, yet composed and brimming with class, this is a player who has shone in key moments. Demonstrating his leadership credentials continually, the added responsibility Thomas Tuchel has placed on him has led to an innate dependability that accentuated his obvious skill.

How crucial he is for Chelsea can be condensed into a singularity. His most outstanding moment last season came in the Champions League Final. In the first half, his side faced an onslaught from Manchester City. One such instance saw a rare lapse in defensive structure. A hole opened in Chelsea’s penalty box and into it sauntered City’s Phil Foden. Just one touch, a caressed outside foot finish, lay between Foden and immortality.

Like a warrior on the front lines of battle, Rudiger dove with left leg outstretched to provide an imperative, goal saving block. Alongside Kai Havertz’s winner, that moment should be called upon in the history of the West London club as one that proved pivotal in the destiny of the most coveted trophy of all.

It’s an instance that perfectly captured Rudiger’s 2020/21 journey. Left out and unfavoured by previous manager Frank Lampard, Rudiger hurled himself into the reckoning under Tuchel as he did in the way of Foden’s shot.

As much as money is a point of concern for Chelsea, there is a lot to be said for the intangible facets Rudiger brings. His proclivity for battle, his physicality, his unapologetic personality, and his overwhelming quality hark back to greats of Chelsea’s past. John Terry, Ron Harris, and Marcel Desailly had the same will to win and refusal not to be bested.

Antonio Rudiger: A Lasting Legacy

Whether Rudiger stays or goes is immaterial to immeasurable impact he has made in the last year. A key member of sides that won the FA Cup and Europa League in seasons past, it was the last 12 months that truly encapsulated the German’s Chelsea story.

Fans haven’t had a second thought over that period as to who occupies the left centre back role simply because Rudiger has locked it down. Moreover, his confidence in bringing the ball out from defense, going on a lung busting foray into the opponent’s half and delivering a key pass or attempting an iconic 30-yard strike.

Casting one’s mind back to his introductory video on Chelsea’s social media platforms in 2017, it’s little wonder that a player who had his number and name etched on a young fan’s shirt would go on to leave such a lasting impression on millions more.

Stay or go, Antonio Rudiger will be immortalized at Chelsea Football Club not only for his iconic block on that fateful night in Porto, but also for his leadership, his quality and, above all, his genial, gregarious and insatiable personality.

Written and edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)

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