Antonio Rudiger should be considered for Footballer of the Year

Antonio Rudiger MUST be in contention for Footballer of the Year… the German defender gives Chelsea personality, drive and desire – and he loves to pick a fight and wind up opponents

  • Antonio Rudiger helped Chelsea to Champions League glory back in May
  • He is now a mainstay at the back, with Chelsea pushing for the title this season
  • He can influence matches in both boxes as he won two penalties on Saturday
  • He deserves to be considered for the Footballer of the Year award this term 

If Liverpool’s title bid is epitomised by the goals of Mo Salah, Manchester City’s by the tireless brilliance of Bernardo Silva, then Chelsea’s is shaping up to be defined by Antonio Rudiger.

From his fits of wild fury to his rampaging runs and his ability to influence the result from the heart of defence, to his unerringly accurate ability to wind up opponents.

Rudiger defends with intensity and aggression. He gets close, enjoys contact, disturbs strikers, while at the other end, one touch and he is over, looking for the foul. All part of his competitive nature, you might say. You wouldn’t want to play against him.

Antonio Rudiger won his side two penalties against Leeds in Chelsea’s 3-2 win on Saturday

His refusal to accept defeat against Leeds on Saturday saw him charge forth to win two soft penalties, both converted by Jorginho, the second of which settled a tense contest with a simmering undercurrent of animosity in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

‘I just thought, OK, let me go forward,’ beamed Rudiger. ‘I have nothing to lose and I felt the contact. They touch first my leg and then the ball also so, for me, two penalties. The referee checked it. That’s why they have VAR.’

Victory steadied Chelsea’s winter wobble and kept them in touch with the Premier League leaders. ‘It’s massive because City and Liverpool won,’ Rudiger added. 

‘We cannot slip any more. We have to stay tight. In the last couple of weeks, it’s not like the teams outplay us or anything, it’s like we give the goals to them. We have to stop this because we’re letting too many goals in.’

He was then heavily involved in a disagreement between the two teams after the final whistle

Rudiger has become a key figure at Chelsea. He has everything a modern centre half would want. Strength, pace, stamina, aerial power and enough quality on the ball to stride out into space.

Yet it is more than that. He gives Thomas Tuchel’s team personality, drive and desire. He plays at the very limit, always emotional, and he electrifies the home crowd, whether tackling, attacking or picking a fight.

Approaching the halfway stage in the season, Liverpool’s Salah and City’s Silva are the leading candidates for Footballer of the Year but Rudiger deserves to be in the conversation, too, because this Chelsea is built on their solid defensive rocks and he has been consistently outstanding.

The downside of this is that, with his contract running out, wealthy clubs are prepared to make him the best-paid defender in the world, talking about contract packages worth £400,000 a week to tempt the 28-year-old Germany international away from Stamford Bridge.

Inside three weeks, Rudiger will be able to sign a deal to join an overseas club at the end of the season. Chelsea are not hard up. They pay extremely well and want to keep him. ‘Super important,’ agreed Tuchel. ‘We are fully aware of Toni’s importance and the role he is playing on and off the pitch.’

Thomas Tuchel realises how important Rudiger has become for Chelsea over the past year

Although it works in both directions. Rudiger has excelled under Tuchel. This time last year, he was on the bench, cast as a troublemaker. In April, he was ejected from training after a bust-up with Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Tuchel has channelled Rudiger’s ferocity and balanced it with others around him. Thiago Silva is a perfect foil, a soothing presence and fine reader of the game, with experience and an unerring defensive instinct.

Tuchel’s system brings the best out of them both, just as Andreas Christensen, also out of contract in the summer, has produced the best football of his career in the last 12 months.

With key midfielders N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic back soon, Chelsea will reclaim the solid base which won them the Champions League and took them to the top of the Premier League.

It would be a shame if this defensive unit were to disperse in May in search of personal fortune.

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