Antonio Rüdiger has often divided opinion among the Chelsea fans. He signed for Chelsea in 2017 on a five year deal. With over 300 career club appearances, the 27 year old is Chelsea’s most experienced centre back, barring, of course, the new signing Thiago Silva. He has made 80 Premier League appearances for Chelsea and has been relied on by managers like Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard as first choice on many occasions.
His time under Frank Lampard, however, has been off and on. Last season, he was out with a long-term injury from the previous season, after having had a surgery performed on his knee. After recovering from that, he suffered another groin injury and was out again for a significant period. Since returning from his injury, he had been one of the mainstays in the team for Lampard and even though he was out for a long time, he still made 20 Premier League appearances last season. Questions were often asked of his performances, though, with Chelsea conceding a lot of goals and barely keeping any clean sheets, which was not just down to his performances, but our collective defensive unit and also the out of form Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Rudiger was inconsistent with a few excellent performances, but many poor performances, but somehow kept his place in the side alongside Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma in the latter half of the season, with Fikayo Tomori not featuring much at all. Some thought it was because of the leadership he brings on the pitch, and others wondered whether Lampard just wanted a stable backline for a change, and that his experience would be key in getting us top four. I was personally very queasy about him being named on the team-sheet consistently despite poor performances when he was, perhaps, our worst performer out of the four.
In fact, as the new season approached, and with Chelsea conducting a lot of transfer business, and getting Thiago Silva and Malang Sarr in the window, Chelsea have six Centre Backs, with Malang Sarr expected to go out on loan. A portion of the fanbase wanted Rudiger to be the one to be sold, but were extremely doubtful about him leaving as he had been Lampard’s first choice last season when he was fit. It was far more likely, and it was also reported widely that Fikayo Tomori would be the one to go out on loan, either in the Premier League, or to Ligue 1 to get more game time since he had been frozen out of the team last season.
There seems to have been a twist in that tale though, with Lampard putting Rudiger on the bench for the first game of the season against Brighton, and then putting him out of the squad for an important game against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, with Fikayo Tomori (who was set to go out on loan, if reports are to be believed) surprisingly featuring on the bench over him. Once again, he did not make the squad for the Carabao cup game against Barnsley, in spite of Christensen being suspended for the game. It is being reported that Chelsea are looking to move him on, either permanently or on a season-long loan, and plan to keep Tomori instead, not loaning him out. This could be a similar situation as David Luiz last season moving out on deadline day after Frank refused to give him assurances about his spot on the team, and Rudiger would want game time with Euro 2021 national team ambitions hanging in the balance.
Now losing a supposedly good defender is always considered to be a bad thing during such a time when we’re building the core of a team that should be competing for trophies soon, however I would argue that selling Rudiger makes the most sense out of our available defenders. Why does it make the most sense? First of all, at least according to me, he’s definitely not our best defender overall. He is inconsistent. Some of his flaws are not open at times because he makes the most basic flaws, like losing his man a lot of the times, lapses in concentration, letting an attacker play onto his stronger side.
All these things sometimes go under the radar because of some good recovery tackles he makes, and the fact that he is a hard worker and willing to put his body on the line. But simply having that is not enough. The fact that he has significantly worsened after that knee surgery last season is also quite visible if you compare his earlier performances under Sarri to his performances now. He is energetic, strong, and is one of the very few who is vocal on the pitch, which are some attributes that we might miss out on, but there’s aren’t something that others don’t have or something they cannot develop. It did not make sense to see him leave last season, but with Thiago Silva coming in to provide that experience and leadership on the pitch, I’d rather see him pair up with Zouma, Christensen or Tomori. Granted Christensen is also inconsistent, and Tomori is very young and requires game time, but they are still as good, if not better than Rudiger, and still have the potential to improve much more, whereas Rudiger is nearing the prime of his career and is not going to get much better than he is right now. As far as his passing is concerned, some of his diagonal balls leave much to be desired as well, apart from his questionable positioning in defense.
With new signings bound to come in and strengthen the defence in the next few windows, it makes sense to sell someone like that and have our core of players who are actually going to be part of the future of this team, if not long-term than at least in the transition phase. Keeping Rudiger would only eat up someone like Tomori’s game time, not just now, but even in the future if he goes on loan and comes back, despite Tomori showing signs that he will become a superior defender than Rudiger down the line.
So, in spite of what it looks sitting on the outside to a neutral or a pundit, we Chelsea fans know that this would be the best strategy for the future of our defense, and even for the immediate future as well. I personally would have kept him in the squad if didn’t need to sell players but I’m convinced that he would have sought assurances with Euros coming up, and Frank Lampard would not give him those since we would have five centre-backs, would have to send Tomori on loan, and would mean sacrificing the game time of another, younger and better defender if he was to assure Rudiger a place in the side alongside Thiago Silva. Apart from this, if Declan Rice comes in, it makes even more sense because he could play in that position too at times.
For me – this is the correct move for the future of the player, the club, and his national team.
That said, I have massive respect for whatever he has done for this club. He has been an influential member of the squad, has always been a good professional, tried to be a leader as well, and also a good human being. No wonder he is liked by the fans as a guy, even though they might have question marks regarding his ability on the pitch. He is a winner, and will always be respected by us Chelsea fans even if he leaves permanently for what he has done for the club. Apart from being a decent footballer and a human, he has also been a very good ambassador for the club, especially owing to his influence in bringing new signings Timo Werner and Kai Havertz at the club, both of whom he spoke to before they joined, and seems to be very supportive of his team and his international team-mates whom he helped the club bring home, even though he is reportedly about to depart, as can be seen from this tweet after our game against Barnsley.
Thank you, Antonio. Keep the #Hustle going, wherever you go.
Let us know your thoughts on whether this would be a good move or not, and if you will miss his presence in the squad.