When Eder Militão saw the yellow card at Stamford Bridge that prevented him from playing the first leg of the Champions League semifinals against Erling Haaland’s Manchester City, restlessness agitated Real Madrid. The opposite happened to Antonio Rüdiger: he began to relish the opportunity to face the Norwegian who terrorizes defenses throughout Europe. When the time came, he dried it. And he despaired.
Since he sensed that he would start against City, the German spoke a lot about the challenge with David Alaba, whom he was going to accompany in the center of defense for Real Madrid, and with whom he has the closest relationship in the squad, by far. shared time outside of Valdebebas that includes the complicity of their wives. He also received information from the coaching staff about a challenge that Carlo Ancelotti wanted to pose as a collective task to deactivate a team; Not just a footballer. But mostly he began to focus on how to get into the head of Haaland, whom he had never faced. He motivated him in a special way.
The Norwegian experienced it very early. After two minutes he went down to receive and Rüdiger jumped on him and prevented him from turning. It was a maneuver with a lot of physical energy in which the referee saw a foul. The center-back ran back to his area, while he looked challengingly at the striker and waved his hands as if mocking the fear that he was said to feel. It was the beginning of an intense night, of which an iconic video clip remains: the German pokes his head under the Norwegian’s right armpit, then under his left, sticking close to him with a collection of disconcerting maneuvers while the Norwegian, patient, follow a far play.
Rüdiger has always used the trick of psychological destabilization, with words and gestures, with a lot of contact. Often bordering on the limits of expulsion, a border that he did not always measure adequately. His first four seasons as a professional, in Germany, were volcanic. He saw a red card every 22 games, both in the Stuttgart subsidiary and in the first team. That made him carry a reputation as a dirty footballer that worried his closest circle. His sister and his agent, Sahr Senesie, then promoted a move to Rome that was providential.
When Senesie ended his own career, in which he went through Borussia Dortmund and the U-21 team, his mother entrusted him to lead Rüdiger’s and try to avoid the mistakes that had prevented him from squeezing his to the fullest. His transfer to Serie A in the summer of 2015 helped him leave his reputation as an expulsible player behind. Also the frequent conversations with his brother, one of his most open and sincere critics. He insisted on the importance of controlling his impulsiveness. In the 56 games of his two seasons in the Italian League, he only saw one red card.
From Roma he jumped to Chelsea in 2017, and in five seasons in the Premier he was not expelled once. He moved on the disciplinary edge with astonishing precision, always trying to take advantage of the opponent’s outburst. One of the events that he most remembers about him occurred in March 2021, when Atlético visited Stamford Bridge in the second round of the Champions League. In the 82nd minute Savic released his right elbow, Rüdiger ended up on the ground and the rojiblanco central defender was sent off.
However, and despite the fact that he continues to press his rivals by all means, the German has never been sent off in the last six seasons, and this season with Madrid he has only seen two yellow cards in 46 games in all competitions.
On Tuesday, with Haaland, he used his entire arsenal, of words, physical forcefulness and confusion. The Norwegian left the Bernabéu as the player with the fewest interventions in the game (21), including goalkeepers. Rüdiger prevailed in the first battle, but was impressed with a footballer whom he ended up hugging and who described his people as incredible, because of his speed and strength. The central defender was happy with his small private victory, but frustrated by the draw.
When the television that has the rights in his country asked him about the return, in his answer in German he included a word in Spanish, “cojones”: “We have the players, we have the experience and we have the cojones to go there and win.”
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