Sunday, November 28

Antonio Rüdiger: ‘Tuchel gave me a new life, he told me what I expected’ | Chelsea

“TO a lot of people don’t know me, ”says Antonio Rüdiger, considering how perceptions of him have changed since Thomas Tuchel’s arrival at Chelsea in January. Rüdiger has been one of the most admirable players in the Premier League this season, entertaining his fans with aggressive defense, powerful runs and expressive gestures, but he doesn’t feel any different. “I’ve always been the way I am now,” he continues. “It’s just that things are going well. Obviously everyone has their opinion. I’ve always been the same Toni ”.

According to Rüdiger, this Toni is “a guy who takes his own stuff seriously”, but with a penchant for creating good vibes in the locker room. He rejects suggestions that he is a prankster, but he is hardly a shrinking violet in the field. He’s tough on opposing forwards and showed his humor when he stuck his tongue out at Chelsea fans after winning a penalty during their recent win over Malmö. “This is how I am in the field,” he says. “It is pure emotion.”

However, that emotion has been viewed differently in the past. The serious air can occasionally make it difficult for a stranger to see the lighter side of Rüdiger. Add in his aggressive flair and the possibility of misconceptions being built about the 28-year-old as a difficult character is obvious.

Fortunately, Tuchel saw Rüdiger’s all-in approach, his strong personality, and his distaste for losing as a positive: evidence of a fierce competitor and a positive team player rather than a potential troublemaker. The defender had left Frank Lampard’s team, who wanted to sell to the German international during the summer of 2020, and was portrayed as a disruptive influence when Lampard was fired.

He’s honest enough to admit that his performances were below average during Lampard’s freshman year, but he couldn’t understand why things fell apart last season. He knew he was still a great defender and then he proved it with Tuchel, helping Chelsea finish as European champions.

Antonio Rüdiger sticks his tongue out after winning a penalty at Malmö in the Champions League earlier this month.
Rüdiger sticks his tongue out after winning a penalty at Malmö in the Champions League earlier this month. Photography: Dave Shopland / Shutterstock

“Tuchel gave me a new life,” says Rüdiger. “I wouldn’t say he said, ‘You have to be the biggest speaker in the locker room.’ I’m not like that. I like to show everything on the field. He told me what I expected, my natural game: to be aggressive, to be a leader ”.

Rüdiger is open to his feelings after the final whistle sounded when Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Champions League final. “It was a great relief,” he says. “It was crazy. ‘At some point you were the Coconut [bogeyman]. From what I heard, she was a bad person to be around. For me it was good. At the end of the day, you can’t shut down people. They will always keep talking and that is not why I play football, but it was good that I came out as a winner ”.

Rüdiger, who joined Chelsea from Roma in 2017 for £ 29 million, smiles when asked if he has anything to prove. “One hundred percent. The manager was fired and there were a lot of people … I don’t know what they tried, but it didn’t work.”

Chelsea’s defense works. They have become difficult to take down since trading three defenders with Tuchel, whose team leads the league before visiting Newcastle on Saturday, and Rüdiger has been exceptional as a central defender down the left side.

“I played three bass [Antonio] Count on Chelsea, ”says Rüdiger. “I played four with [Maurizio] Sarri, it was a good season. If there is a clear plan in what he is doing, it does not matter if it is a back three or a four.

Rüdiger and Thomas Tuchel hold the Champions League Trophy after the victory over Manchester City in Porto last May.
Rüdiger and Thomas Tuchel hold the Champions League Trophy after the victory over Manchester City in Porto last May. Photograph: Alexander Hassenstein / UEFA / Getty Images

“It’s about structure. This is why I have to give the manager all the credit. Sometimes it’s a back three, but sometimes I end up pushing forward, so suddenly it’s not a back three, it’s a back four. It’s a strange form of it! But we concede less, which is good.

“When we had those races where you don’t fit in, you start to think about it. It was not like this in the past. We didn’t have many clean sheets. For a defender there is nothing more important than a clean sheet ”.

Rüdiger’s game has been developed under Tuchel. “When I was younger, I wasn’t usually the player who runs forward with the ball,” he says. “I can do it, but for me it’s more about the defensive aspect. I like to press high. Pressing is in my DNA. The coach gave me the freedom to do it because that is what he expects ”.

Pressing is a finely tuned skill. “It’s automation,” says Rüdiger. “You have to do it in training and everyone has to be on. Sorry to say, but there shouldn’t be any shit. Any little detail that you don’t put in, can cost you a lot. When you push that high, somewhere there is room on the field. If one sleeps, it can be chaos.

“Jürgen Klopp, since he’s at Liverpool they have been pushing, pushing, pushing. Man City does it very well. It’s good to put a lot of pressure because if you win the ball you are closer to the goal ”.

A good point, although Rüdiger is also approaching cult status due to his pursuit of a long-distance goal. “I need to work on my shots,” he laughs. Mason Mount, you may need to work with him. Maybe he can teach me something. “

The conversation revolves around Rüdiger’s apparent attempt to score from the center circle against Aston Villa last month; the ball ended up on the upper level. “Let me clear this up,” he says. “I never thought of shooting. I just wanted to clear the ball. People took it as a shot but it could have been a counterattack. If maybe I control that ball there, maybe [Danny] Ings was close to me, maybe he takes the ball from me and then everyone has to run 70 meters.

Rudiger scores Chelsea's third goal in a 3-0 win at Tottenham in September.
Rüdiger scores Chelsea’s third goal in a 3-0 win at Tottenham in September. Photograph: Tony O’Brien / Reuters

Rüdiger, who scored from inside the box when Chelsea beat Tottenham last month, supports his teammates. He talks to his close friend Callum Hudson-Odoi and backs up Timo Werner to start scoring. He then praises Édouard Mendy – “he’s the best goalkeeper in the world right now” – and gives inconsistent Kai Havertz some advice on how to build on his European win over City.

“Life is a roller coaster,” he says. “One day you can be there, the next you are King Kai. He is too young. Maturity will come in time. In football time is rare, but we have to lift it. Get everyone up. We have a lot of young children. “

Rüdiger remembers his upbringing in Berlin-Neukölln and his struggle to control his temper when he played soccer. “I grew up in a place where it had to be tough. I found it great to be in fights. But sometimes, when the provocations came, I went for more, which expelled me. I said to myself: ‘I should focus on my game and be calmer.’

Rüdiger sounds happy now, although he has yet to compromise his future with Chelsea. His contract expires next summer. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid want it for free.

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“The most important thing is that I feel happy here,” says Rüdiger. “I think if people look at it, they can see that I’m happy. On the status of the contract, I speak with the club. This is for anyone’s ears. This is how I said it would be after the euros: there would be talks. There was a talk between Marina [Granovskaia, a Chelsea director] and my agent. We have the situation we are in now and I have nothing to do with all the speculation. This is not on my mind. I’m focused on what I’m doing because that’s why I wake up every morning. “

Rüdiger doesn’t care if the defenders are respected enough. “For outsiders it is always more important who scores the goals,” he says. “If you do an incredible block as a goal-saving defense, maybe that will be remembered. But nothing else.

Let me put it like this: You have Messi, Ronaldo, Salah, Benzema, Lewandowski and everything, so who am I to say that I should be judged like them? I know my work. I’m realistic. If I get a clean sheet it’s good for me, for my team and for my teammates in defense ”.

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