Real Madrid: From torment to home: Rüdiger makes room at the Bernabéu | Sports | The USA Print


Antonio Rüdiger (Berlin, 29 years old) prostrated himself twice on the grass of the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday and repeated a brief prayer: “Alhamdulillah (Thanks God)”. The first was just after making his debut as a scorer in the Real Madrid shirt, already after 90 minutes. He finished off a free kick taken by Toni Kroos at the far post with his left foot, and while Rodrygo and Nacho chased him to hug him, he lay down down.

It was his first day as a starter in his new home, after having stepped on it for just a minute the previous Saturday against Betis. He had been there before, but the experience had been far less satisfying. It was five months earlier, on April 12, with Chelsea, his previous team, in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals. That night he scored in the same goal at the south end: he headed in a corner, making it 0-2, a result that led the tie to extra time. He ran off, screaming and waving his right arm. That time he did not stop to put his forehead on the grass and deposit the alhamdulillah of the great occasions, as he did, for example, after winning the Champions League with Chelsea in 2021 in Porto.

With his goal on Sunday against Mallorca (4-1), Rüdiger finished turning a stadium that had frustrated and fascinated him in April into his home, according to a source close to the player: “He was very impressed by the Bernabéu. He had always heard about the negative atmosphere when things weren’t going well, how quickly he blew his whistle, but in this match it was different. Rodrygo’s goal was enough to make the stadium go crazy”. That click turned the meeting into an artifact difficult to handle for Chelsea, as the footballer confessed to his people. Tonight Rüdiger returns to Chamartín in the Champions League, against Leipzig (9:00 pm, Movistar), again as a starter due to Militão’s injury, out of the squad.

That elimination with Chelsea left a mark on the German and a concern on Carlo Ancelotti, who played extra time with Carvajal as central defender for the first time in his career. The Italian called Rüdiger soon after to convince him to join his team. The German, seduced by the coach’s words and the energy of the stadium where he had fallen, ruled out other temptations such as that of Bayern (eliminated by Villarreal), lowered his economic demands from the previous fall, and less than a month later he had already compromised with the whites.

His fit, with the Militão-Alaba duo working perfectly, was uncertain, but Ancelotti assured him that he needed him and he launched himself to open a gap, something he is still working on: he has played 344 of the 630 possible minutes, 54.6%, some on the side, although that is not where they feel comfortable. “Our defense with him is better,” the Italian coach said yesterday. Rüdiger approaches competition in the spirit with which he faces forwards: “I like to be aggressive, fair and clean. In the last five years I have not seen any red. I try to play hard, it’s my nature,” he said yesterday.

Neither the challenge nor his lack of knowledge of the language bothered him, a fundamental tool for his work depending on his environment: “On the field, he is always the player who is heard the most. He talks all 90 minutes.” He talks, and it bothers him to play alongside footballers who don’t. He needs that constant chatter, people say about him, and he expanded on it yesterday: “It is very important to talk on the field, that there is communication. It makes life easier for us. Before playing and also during the match. It comes naturally to me.” He sees it as so decisive that he is already trying out the new language: “In the field I speak Spanish, and I think they understand me,” he said. Even when he shares the center of the defense with the Austrian David Alaba: “It is normal that we speak in Spanish. We are in Spain. Although the language is not learned in two days. I have yet to learn.”

To understand him, he is saved by the Italian, who has dominated since his two seasons at Roma, between 2017 and 2019. When he moved to London, he kept him alive. In the team, with the Italian-Brazilian Jorginho. And outside, in restaurants. His favorite food is Italian, and he was not in a hurry when he could stay chatting in his usual places.

The word also serves him well in combat, as West Ham striker Michail Antonio told a BBC podcast in March: “He talks to me during the game, he tells me: ‘Don’t try that, not with me.’

But Rüdiger sees the conversation as a form of courtesy as well. When he met his new teammates at Valdebebas, he kept a detail for Modric, a few words in Croatian that he had learned with Kovacic, his best friend at Chelsea.

Waiting for his final place in the eleven, Rüdiger found him right away in the locker room: “The adaptation has been the most comfortable I’ve ever had.” And it seems that also the accommodation at the Bernabéu. The second time he prostrated himself on the grass on Sunday, the game had already finished and only Alaba, Courtois and him remained on the field, under the final applause, who pronounced again: “Alhamdulillah”.

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