What will that poor kid do with his Chelsea shirt now? Antonio Rudiger’s arrival in July 2017 was infamous, with the club creating an announcement video that cannot be forgotten.
It started with a young fan entering the club shop and asking for ‘Rudiger’ on the back of his shirt. ‘You can’t have the name of someone who hasn’t signed yet,’ explains his father, saying he should get David Luiz (oops) or Eden Hazard (double oops) instead.
The helpful shop assistant says she’ll see what she can do and so pops into a pitch-black stockroom, where a kitted-out Rudiger happens to be stood.
‘No problem,’ he says, smiling and offering two thumbs up. ‘I’m a Chelsea player now.’
Not for long. Rudiger is now on his way out, three years after joining from Roma for £29million.
Fit again but absent from Frank Lampard’s last two squads, he is considering his options ahead of October 5’s deadline, with Ligue 1 Paris-Saint Germain among the potential suitors.
Lampard doesn’t fancy him, though he is not the first Chelsea manager to drop the defender.
Antonio Conte previously axed Rudiger from his match-day squad for a trip to Southampton as punishment for publicly questioning his tactics in a 1-1 draw with West Ham.
Lampard’s other supposed reasons for wanting to go in a different direction range from his unfortunate history of injuries to an infuriating display in a 3-2 defeat at the London Stadium.
Not everyone agrees with Lampard’s judgement. The top-rated comment on Sportsmail’s story about Rudiger’s absence against Barnsley on Wednesday night was telling: ‘If he goes and calamity (Andreas) Christensen stays, something is very wrong at the Bridge.’
You do wonder what Kai Havertz and Timo Werner make of this, too.
‘Agent Rudiger’, as he was nicknamed, spoke to both of his Germany team-mates before they signed and the Berlin-born centre back has helped them settle to life in London, too.
At 27, Rudiger ought to be a player in his prime. But his history of knee injuries is perhaps one reason why Lampard is ready to let the defender leave.
Rudiger arrived with these problems – he had undergone three knee operations prior to signing in 2017. Then in April 2019, he went under the knife again, after injuring it at Old Trafford.
He returned in a 5-2 win over Wolves in September, but was removed at half time. This time it was the groin, and he didn’t next appear until December.
With each injury comes a lengthy rehabilitation process and you can never know the player you will get back. Though hardly Rudiger’s fault, this has proven problematic for Lampard, who has been unable to nail down his preferred centre-back partnership since taking charge.
Rudiger is said to be a powerful presence in the Chelsea dressing room – a leader, as Havertz and Werner will protest – but he cannot always be trusted on the pitch.
In July 2020, during a spell in the side, Rudiger lined up against West Ham. Chelsea lost 3-2, courtesy of an 89th-minute winner from Michail Antonio. Gary Neville, the Sky Sports co-commentator, was ruthless in his analysis of the Germany international.
Lampard was furious, too. He did not hold back in the dressing room, focusing on the hapless defending, and Rudiger was dropped for Chelsea’s following three fixtures as a result.
That was perhaps the beginning of the end. Rudiger’s last appearance in a blue shirt might turn out to be a 2-1 FA Cup final loss to Arsenal.
For Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s winner, it was Rudiger who broke the defensive line to try to stop a run by Hector Bellerin. He failed to do so, and Arsenal scored.
There were rumours of a new contract in April 2020 but those negotiations never transpired and so Rudiger, who is currently tied down until 2022, must realise time is up.
Chelsea would prefer he leaves for a club outside of the Premier League, but a season-long loan to a rival is not outside of the realm of possibility.
He will depart with memories of a 2018 FA Cup win and 2019 Europa League winner’s medal, and will always be able to revisit that announcement video on YouTube.
Right now, Chelsea may as well have shoved Rudiger back in that darkened stockroom. By axing him from their squad altogether, they clearly decided against putting him in the shop window.