BY: Oma Akatugba
One thing a lot of black footballers have in common is growing up in the Ghetto. This certainly has a significant influence on their development as individuals and footballers. One of such is Chelsea and the German national team defender, Antonio Rudiger. Born on the 3rd of March and raised in Neukolln, a crime-infested neighbourhood in Berlin. His parents, Mathias and Lilly, met each other in the German capital after they fled Sierra Leone as a result of the civil war in 1991. The 25 years old tough-tackling centre defender started his professional career at VfB Stuttgart in Germany having gone through various youth systems. He then moved to Italy to join AS Roma. While at AS Roma, where he is believed to have made significant progress in his development as a player. But he had some difficulties with the Italian language.
“At the beginning of my stay in Italy, it was challenging because of the language. But the people made it a bit easy for me as they used sign language. That was very nice. Edin Dzeko, who learnt the Italian language very fast also helped me a lot.”
Rudiger has worked with some very charismatic managers in his career. Currently managing him at Chelsea is the very emotive and passionate Antonio Conte, who himself is Italian and a product of the tactically oriented football system. But Rudiger believes, one man stands out for him, regarding the knowledge he has gained and how his tactical understanding of the game has improved. That man is his former manager at AS Roma, Luciano Spalleti.
“One manager who I have learnt the most from is Luciano Spalletii, whom I worked with for a year and a half He was like a father figure both on and off the pitch, even though he insulted me many times in the Italian language, using words that I will not like to repeat ”
The Italian Serie A is known to be one of the most tactically astute league in the world. In Italy, they give utmost priority to tactics.
Most football fans have become aware of a system of defence known as Catenaccio, made famous by the Italians. According to Google Wikipedia, The Catenaccio (Italian pronunciation)[kateˈnattʃo]) or The Chain is a tactical system in football with a strong emphasis on defence. In Italian, catenaccio means “door-bolt”, which implies a highly organised and effective backline defence focused on nullifying opponents’ attacks and preventing goal-scoring opportunities. This Ridger benefited greatly from during his time in the Italian capital with AS Roma. The 25-year-old Sierra Leon born German national team defender said while speaking during an interview on German TV channel ZDF.
“I learnt a lot tactically in Italy, and that is where I made my biggest progress . when I left Stuttgart for Rome, I didn’t know how tactically poor I was. It became clear to me when I got to Italy. Even Spalleti had to ask me what I learnt in Germany. He said he did not want to insult anyone, but I did not learn anything tactically during my time in Germany. We worked so much on tactics, and I learnt a lot.”
Rudiger was named the “Rambo” of the league during his youth days because he accumulated so many red cards as a result of his aggressive tackles. Rudiger asked for help from his family on how to behave better on and off the pitch, and this helped him generally improve his behaviour.
“I spoke a lot with my parents and my brother because, at that point, my family was the most important for me. They trust me most. These are the people that will always tell me the truth. My family helped me not to only behave better on the pitch but also to behave better generally. They told me that the Berlin Ghetto life does not belong to professional football life. But when I think back at those days, I realise how stupid I was, but I also think it helped me to reach where I am today.”
Racism is rife in Italian football as a couple of African players have had to suffer severe racial slur, most famous incidence was that of Kelvin Prince Boateng, also born and raised in Berlin. Prince Boateng was racially abused during a friendly match between his team AC Milan and Pro Patria back then, and the midfielder simply kicked the ball in the direction of the culprits before removing his shirt and walking off the pitch. His team-mates followed suit, and the game had to be abandoned.
Rudiger also had his fair share of the horrid experience. The German defender must be happy now that he would not have to live with this unpleasant situations since he now plays in England where it hardly happens.
“First I have to state clearly, that I did not run away, of course, I could live with it, but I did not like it. That is why I stated clearly at the Confed cup that I am very critical of the topic. I don’t have much to say. I can only say that in 2018 racism does not belong anywhere at all. This never happened to me in Germany, only in Italy. When I saw it happen to prince and his reaction, I first thought he overreacted. But when it happened to me, then I realised how bad it is.”
Rudiger is currently training with the German national team, “Die Mannschaft” having been selected as one of the 23 players to represent the European giants at the 2018 FIFA World cup in Russia. They hope to retain the title they won four years ago in Brazil and Rudiger thinks they have a good chance.
“Our chances are good, ofcourse there is a tough competetion. We are Germany, we have quality that is why we won the world cup in 2014. It is possible again. We go to Russia with the target of winning the world cup again but ofcourse, it will never be easy.”
For Germany to retain the world cup, they would have to ward off strong contenders like Spain, France, Brazil and Argentina. Same goes for Rudiger, who would have to contend with top players like Mats Hummes and Jerome Boateng who are ahead of him in the pekking order for a first-team shirt.
“Jerome and Hummels are top defenders. For that reason, I have to bring down me ego and accept things the way they are. Give my best in training and support the team in every game, that way I can show show that I am there for the team.”
Having played in Germany, Italy and now England. Rudiger has experienced 3 different styles and approach. He thinks the the English Premier League is hard, unlike the Serie A that is tactically astute.
“In England, the games are very intensive, really every game is hard. Sometimes when you see the results and you see 4-0 nonetheless, you would have given a lot to achieve that”
Even though he was born in German, the 25 year old defender hasn’t forgotten his roots. He visited Sierra Leone, Siera Leon after he tore his cruciate ligament, on a fact-finding mission.
“After my injury, I went to Sierra Leon to rediscover myself. I wanted to find something new. I have a lot in Germany, and I am very thankful to Germany for my family. Nonetheless, i had to to go and see how the children are living over there. What I saw was very important for me. I realiyed that I have to be thankful and happy for all I have. I said to myself that this was justa Torn curciate, nothing more. The children back home in Siera Leone have completely different worries.”
Antonio Rudiger will be hoping to play a key role in Germany’s attempt to retain the world cup trophy they won in Brazil 2014.