Rising star Antonio Rudiger would be best served by Bundesliga stay
Antonio Rudiger recently hopped aboard the transfer rumour merry-go-round when his agent confirmed that both Chelsea and Wolfsburg have shown an interest in signing his client. While the veracity of the former link is yet to be verified, there can be no doubt that the young Stuttgart defender is an interesting prospect, who is likely to attract interest this summer.
Rudiger was born in Berlin to a German father and Sierra Leonean mother, and moved through various youth clubs before being spotted by Borussia Dortmund at the age of 15. He spent three years at the club before leaving for Stuttgart in 2011 in search of a better chance of first-team progression. He made his first start in January 2012, became a regular member of the squad the following season and then made 30 starts during the 2013-14 campaign.
Last summer, he received a surprise call-up to the German national team for their pre-World Cup friendly against Poland. The young defender had previously represented his country at every youth level, beginning with the Under-18 team, and his senior debut followed in that match. His first couple of competitive starts came at full-back in the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Republic of Ireland and Poland last October, and he has since continued to be a part of Joachim Low's squad.
The 2014-15 season was a difficult one for Rudiger and Stuttgart. The club went through two coaches during a relegation-threatened campaign, and only avoided a bottom-three finish by virtue of three consecutive victories in their final three fixtures. Rudiger suffered a knee injury against Schalke in December and spent the next four months on the sidelines after surgery. He did, though, return strongly to help his club through the final stretch of the season.
The 22-year-old turned down a move to Monaco last summer and admitted in an interview with Bild last October that his preferred destination would be Arsenal. His current contract with Stuttgart runs through to 2017 and the club are said to have put an €18 million price tag on his head. Wolfsburg have already had preliminary talks with his current employers and are considered the favourites to secure his signature.
Rudiger is a tall, quick and athletic defender who is capable of turning out at centre-back or full-back. He is comfortable with the ball at his feet and has all the necessary physical attributes to become a top-level centre-back. The 22-year-old does, however, often rely too heavily on his physical qualities to get him out of trouble -- he rarely anticipates dangerous situations and can be prone to lapses in concentration. He can also be a little rash at times.
Germany national team coach Low has compared his attributes to those of current international Jerome Boateng, while Rudiger has himself said that he tries to model his game on that of the Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva.
-- Tall and athletic
-- Quick across the ground
-- Comfortable in possession
-- Reading of play
-- Lapses in concentration
-- A little rash and overly aggressive at times
Tackling: His tackles are generally well-timed, with his pace allowing him to get into position quickly enough to ensure he takes the ball cleanly. He is agile and thus rarely flummoxed by quick-footed opposing forwards.
Marking: Rudiger admits that he likes to "make things as uncomfortable as possible" for his opponents, and that is illustrated by his aggressive marking style. It is clear that he wants to make use of his physical attributes, but he can be overly forceful in doing so, particularly in upper-body tussles. He is improving in this regard, however, with his foul-rate per 90 minutes dropping from 1.57 during the 2013-14 season to 1.27 in 2014-15.
Heading: Standing at 6'3" and blessed with an athletic build, one would expect him to win more than the 57.1 percent of his aerial challenges that he won last season -- a figure that put him outside the top 50 for aerial-win percentage among Bundesliga defenders. Commanding at times, his lack of anticipation does harm him on other occasions.
Close control: Possesses a fairly tight first touch and is unafraid of taking on players to try and open up a better angle for a forward pass. Occasionally takes unnecessary risks, but usually displays a good understanding of his limits.
Passing: Comfortable in possession and confident in stepping forward out of defence with the ball at his feet. Capable of executing nice, crisp passes forward between the lines, as well as longer drilled diagonals out to the flanks. His pass completion rate for last season stood at a very solid 83.4 percent, including a 77-percent completion rate on forward passes.
Positioning: The area of his game that needs most work. He spends much of his time reacting to what is happening in front of him instead of anticipating possible scenarios to ensure that he is well-positioned ahead of time. While his speed and strength are generally sufficient to get him out of trouble, this is a weakness that better teams can and will exploit.
Crossing: As a centre-back at club level, he almost never gets forward into crossing positions. He completed just one of the nine crosses he attempted in his two appearances at full-back for Germany in their Euro 2016 qualifiers against Ireland and Poland last October. This is something he would need to work on if he was to become a regular at full-back.
Finishing: A record of two goals in 60 starts for the Stuttgart first team suggests that he is not a huge threat inside the penalty area from set pieces, and he said prior to the commencement of last season that he was looking to improve this aspect of his game. He needs to learn to make better use of his height in both defensive and offensive situations.
What The Experts Say
Germany national team coach, Löw: "He's another Jerome Boateng, just because they're so alike. He's been one of our strongest defenders in training and that's why he's playing."
Cristian Nyari of Bundesliga Fanatic:
@fussballchef Rüdiger is even rawer than Boateng was at his age but so much potential. Maybe move away from Stuttgart can help?- Cristian Nyari (@Cnyari) November 18, 2014
Rudiger's half-brother, Sahr Senesie, is also a footballer. He began his career at Borussia Dortmund and made 24 appearances for their first team before being released in 2008. The 30-year-old forward currently plies his trade with third division side SG Sonnenhof Grossaspach.
Rudiger's reputation has steadily increased over the last couple of years and he is now starting to attract attention from larger clubs, both domestically and from elsewhere in Europe. He is far from the finished article but with strong physical attributes and good passing ability, he has sufficient potential to make him an attractive project.
The 22-year-old has been a regular in the national team setup since last summer's World Cup and will likely be wary of making a move that would deny him sufficient first-team football to retain his place in the squad in the build-up to Euro 2016. There are no guarantees with any transfer, but given the improvements he still needs to make to his game, Rudiger would be best served by seeking out a team who can give him regular minutes.
An upward move within Germany, most probably to Wolfsburg, currently looks the best option for a player for whom the next couple of years will be crucial in determining how far his potential can take him.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.