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Rüdiger: six things you might not know about Real Madrid signing

Antonio Rüdiger has been unveiled as a new Real Madrid player, having moved to the Bernabéu from Chelsea. Sergio López de Vicente takes a look at the German’s life story.

Update:
VALDEBEBAS, SPAIN - JUNE 20: Antonio Rudiger attends during his first press conference as player of Real Madrid at Ciudad Deportiva Real Madrid on June 20, 2022, in Valdebebas, Madrid Spain. (Photo By Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images)
Europa Press SportsGetty

Antonio Rüdiger could write an extensive, and riveting, autobiography: from the struggles of his childhood, to his opening steps in the world of football, to the promise he made to his mother and, perhaps as the final chapter, the fulfilment of his dream of founding an NGO to help those in need in Sierra Leone. Rüdiger is more than a footballer. Those who know him describe him as a person of huge warmth and kindness - even if he becomes quite the opposite when he’s out on the field. These are six things you might not have known about the Real Madrid signing.

Tough childhood

Rüdiger was born in Berlin to a German father and a Sierra Leonean mother. She had had to flee the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. Rüdiger grew up in Neukölln, a district in the German capital with a high percentage of first or second-generation immigrants. Money was tight, but his parents did everything they could for him; for example, after saving for a long time, they were able to buy their son a football shirt bearing the name of George Weah, his childhood idol. He wore it to training most days. Once, Rüdiger’s mother was unable to give him the money he needed for a school trip - and he always points to this as a moment that had a profound impact on him. Despite such financial struggles, she always sought to help him, be it by taking him to football practice or by trying to buy him whatever he needed for school or training. “Mum, one day all this sacrifice will be worth it,” he told her after signing for Borussia Dortmund as a youth player. It’s a promise that neither has ever forgotten.

Antonio Rüdiger as a child.
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Antonio Rüdiger as a child.Archivo

Nickname: ‘Rambo’

While a gentle soul off the pitch, his character transforms when he crosses that white line. He’s a player who goes out there all guns blazing - and always has done. As a child, his uncompromising playing style led him to be nicknamed ‘Rambo’ at the Berlin academy he trained at. It’s a moniker he has never shied away from, and which he is associated with to this day.

Half-brother and agent

While Lionel Messi’s agent is his father and Mauro Icardi is represented by his wife, Rüdiger has placed his career in the hands of his half-brother, Sahr Senesie. Senesie was also a footballer, but now focuses exclusively on player management. He had a spell at Hoffenheim, but spent most of his playing career at Dortmund, where he made more than 110 appearances for the first and second teams. He also represented Germany at age-group level, but never earned a senior call-up.

Sahr Senesie, Rüdiger's half-brother and agent.
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Sahr Senesie, Rüdiger's half-brother and agent.Archivo

Struggles with racism

Rüdiger’s first experience of racism came at an early age. When he was eight, he tried to help a woman who was struggling with her shopping bags. As he approached her, she looked at him with a look of fear, he recalls, and began to cry out for help, believing that he was going to rob her. During his period as a player with Roma in Italy, Rüdiger also suffered racism, notably in a Rome derby in which Lazio supporters aimed slurs at him. He received significant support from Roma team-mate Daniele de Rossi, something for which he has regularly expressed thanks in interviews.

Defensive idol? Pepe

Although Rüdiger idolised George Weah as a child, as an adult he has become a particular fan of Real Madrid great Pepe. He revealed this in an interview with PlayStation earlier this year. “If you could partner any central defender in football history, who would you pick?” Rüdiger was asked. “I would go with Pepe,” he replied, prompting a surprised response from his interviewer, who had not been expecting that name among the wide range of legends available to the German. “The way this guy plays, I like it,” Rüdiger explained. “He’s always at the edge, sometimes a bit over-motivated, but this is the way I like it. I like him very much as a player. People just see the aggressiveness in him, but the way he plays football… he’s class.”

Charity work in Sierra Leone

A few years ago, Rüdiger created Antonio Rüdiger For Sierra Leone, an NGO that helps underprivileged people in his mother’s native country. The body aims to provide the financial resources required to ensure people benefit from a better education, greater equality, and improved infrastructure. Amid the covid-19 pandemic, for example, Rüdiger’s foundation led a 2020 charity campaign also involving footballers such as Olivier Giroud and Mesut Özil, as part of which 60,000 face masks were donated in Freetown, the Sierra Leonean capital.

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