The first call was in September but it was not until Antonio Rüdiger picked up the phone in April that he decided to join Real Madrid, the former Chelsea defender has revealed.
His destination had not been determined when he visited the Santiago Bernabéu for the first time, defeated in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but by the time Real played the final against Liverpool it was done. A conversation with Carlo Ancelotti clinched it, the defender saying that Barcelona called but that he informed his agent: “It’s Madrid or nothing.”
At his presentation the German centre-back said he had started contacting clubs at the start of his final season at Stamford Bridge, a search that ended with him moving to Madrid. He mentioned the former Brazil striker Ronaldo and talked about another former player, Pepe, as a role model, but that was not what finally tilted the balance. It was the manager who made up his mind.
“The first time I contacted them – not really myself but my agent – was in September of last year,” he said. “The second time was me speaking directly with Ancelotti in April. That was the most important moment. It was there that I took the decision to play for this club with Mr Ancelotti. He told me I could help the team a lot and that’s enough for me. Of course I now that there is competition here, it’s Real Madrid.”
Asked if that made it hard to face Real with Chelsea in April, Rüdiger replied: “To be honest, it was easy. By that time nothing was clear. And even if there would be something that would be clear, even if I would end up signing and coming here, it is important to be professional and at the time my objective was to knock Madrid out. Unfortunately we could not. But for me it was easy to maintain my concentration.
“What Madrid did in the Champions League I wouldn’t know how to describe it: incredible, incredible. By the final I knew I was going to play for Madrid, so I was supporting them and I was delighted that they won. My old team had lost two finals [in the League Cup and the FA Cup], and it’s also good to keep winning.”
Rüdiger adds depth, and height, to Real. Aggression and competitiveness too, saying “you never know what’s coming with me: I might dance or laugh but on the pitch I am very serious. I don’t like to joke there.”
Asked whom he most identifies with, he made an unexpected choice but one that reflected that. “Obviously there are a lot of top, top, top centre-backs but, if I had to, choose one I would say Pepe: I really like his character. And off the pitch he is a nice guy. On it, he is a monster and I love that,” he said. “What I can offer in the dressing room is my fighting spirit, my leadership: that is what I hope my contribution will be, but Rome was not built in a day.”