Number 3: Antonio Rüdiger
Age: 23 (born March 3, 1993)
Position: Center-back / Right-back
Previous Club: VfB Stuttgart
Current Club: A.S. Roma
Future Comparison: Jérôme Boateng
Who Is He?
Antonio Rüdiger just barely makes our U-23 Countdown, having been born on March 3, 1993 in Berlin, Germany. The child of a family that had fled from war-torn Sierra Leone just two years prior, Rüdiger spent much of his childhood bouncing from academy to academy, learning at VfB Sperber Neukölln, Hertha 03 Zehlendorf, and Borussia Dortmund. His first foray into senior matches occurred with VfB Stuttgart in 2011, and suffice it to say he hasn’t looked back since.
While at Stuttgart, Rüdiger clocked in 80 appearances, scoring two goals and grabbing the attention of German national team coach Joachim Löw. Löw trusted the 21-year-old enough to hand him a senior appearance for Die Mannschaft, giving him the chance to play alongside defensive titans of the game like Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng (a player many, including Löw, compare Rüdiger to), and more. Enter Walter Sabatini, and with him, A.S. Roma.
Roma snatched up Rüdiger on loan during the summer of 2015 for €4 million, with a €9 million option latched on for good measure. Despite a shaky first few starts, support from both the fans and the club helped Rüdiger have a strong first season for i Lupi, pairing well with Kostas Manolas in his 29 league appearances. An unfortunate ACL tear while training with Germany for this summer’s Euros has sidelined him for the time being, but he definitely looks to be a big part of the Roman (and German) defense for the extended future.
What Can He Do?
Antonio Rüdiger isn’t your stereotypical center-back, but in a very good way. He’s comfortable moving forward with the ball and can play as a right-back or even a right winger. He’s got the necessary height (190 centimeters, or 6 feet 3 inches for you fans of the imperial system) and weight (85 kg, or 187 pounds) to act as an imposing enforcer on the defensive end. In addition, he’s shown a neat ability to hit the precision passes necessary to feed the midfield and attack, with an average pass length of 21 meters in the 2015/2016 season. As of right now, Rüdiger is a very solid starting center back for a squad of Roma’s caliber.
What Can He Become?
“He’s come on a lot and gained plenty of experience in these four to five months with Roma. He’s a different player now. He can continue to gain a lot from the guidance of Luciano Spalletti, who is showing him the way. Rüdiger has great margin for improvement and huge potential.” – Joachim Löw
This part of the countdown is also where the “potential” section becomes even more exciting. Rüdiger’s ceiling looks to be incredibly high; he’s already proven himself to be a good starter for a Champions League-level squad, and the tail end of the 2015/2016 season definitely hinted at even more to come.
To paraphrase Bear Bryant, the coach of one of the most successful football teams of all time (albeit the wrong type of football), consistent defense wins championships. Look at Juventus’ back line; it has barely changed in the past five years, and wouldn’t you know it? They’ve won the Scudetto for the past five years. Roma wants to break that trend of Juventini Scudetti, and a consistent defense filled with players like Rüdiger will make this an achievable goal.
Of course, given his seemingly sky-high potential, it’s only natural that Roma may struggle to keep a hold on the German. Before his ACL tear, the likes of Chelsea, Bayern, and (gulp) Juventus were nipping at Rüdiger’s heels, with some reporters going as far as claiming that he was bound for Stamford Bridge. Naturally, his injury changed the market for his services quite a bit, but the fact that these members of the European Billionaire’s Club were bandying about big money for the German is just one indicator of Rüdiger’s rising star. Most players couldn’t crack the German national team at 22; Rüdiger already has nine caps, and looks as if he will squeeze right back into the fray as soon as he recovers from his injury. Simply put, if Roma wishes to finally gain membership to the European Billionaire’s Club that seems to run football these days (Leicester City notwithstanding), it must resist the temptation to sell players like Rüdiger and instead ride with them to prolonged success.
Rüdiger has already become a major cog in Roma’s defense, overall squad, and social media presence (Seriously, give him a follow on Twitter. He’s a shockingly down-to-earth and optimistic guy). Time will tell if he can overcome his history of injuries, but if his first season with the Giallorossi is any indication, Antonio Rüdiger may be destined for greatness.