22 Defender AS Roma (on loan from VfB Stuttgart) Germany
22-year-old Berliner Antonio Rüdiger has earned a fearsome reputation. He’s won seven caps for the German national team after making his debut in 2014 having represented his country at several under-age levels. He moved a few times during his youth career but was ultimately a product of VfB Stuttgart, that club that brought him through his transition into the professional game and, finally, the Bundesliga.
At first glance, Rüdiger appears to be the very archetype of the modern central defender, able to play the ball and get across the grass at speed but also athletic and physical enough to deal with the one-man strike forces defenders have to face in so many games today.
2015 has been…
Built on an imaginative and mature decision. Linked in the summer with Wolfsburg and, frequently, Chelsea, Rüdiger’s departure from Stuttgart was not a surprise. His destination was arguably worthy of a raised eyebrow, but gave a hint as to the old head on his young shoulders.
He joined AS Roma in Europe, citing his desire to experience Rome and play with some great players. It was an educated choice that took into account his own research into Roma’s style of play, a style Rüdiger said he felt would suit him. Other players in this list have made poor choices this year. Rüdiger’s should prove more prudent.
Indeed he’s recently started to really establish himself in the Roma side, part of a young and temporarily temporary partnership with left back Lucas Digne. That they don’t often look out of their depth is a credit to both of them. With a big move under his belt and barely a beat skipped in terms of playing first team football, the future is wide open for Rüdiger.
When he’s in his groove there’s a lot to like about the Berlin-born back. He plays on the left of Roma’s defensive pairing despite being right-footed and his reading of the game is usually good, albeit not always perfect and often noticeably reactive.
He’s good at getting his body in between man and ball in difficult positions and he’s a really important aerial presence at the back, winning headers in the box like nobody’s business. When he’s in the right place, and he’s there at the right time, he can be a formidable barrier.
And yet Rüdiger doesn’t really dominate. As he continues to gain experience he’ll need to take more responsibility in the multifarious situations that currently pass him by but rarely cost Roma dear. His positioning has been questioned, not least when Roma play a high line and Rüdiger is found behind the trap.
These are weaknesses that can be ironed out. His discipline – or rather his collecting of cards – has already been addressed in the past few years, and self-improvement is high on this young man’s agenda. He can still take a risk by putting hands on the shoulders of forwards, his physicality allowing him to haul back a man when it might not be the smartest move.
The next step for Rüdiger in terms of career admin is to confirm his move to Rome full time, the two clubs having already agreed a fairly modest fee for an option-to-buy in the summer of 2016. He’ll also need to ride out any other defensive transfer activity Roma undertake between now and then, a decision he can take out of the club’s hands by making strides of his own this year.
He’ll presumably be keen on a few more Germany caps, too. That’s a frightening challenge but one he’s succeeded at before. Whether taking himself out of the Bundesliga spotlight was good for his international career remains to be seen, but it’s already looking as if it can continue Rüdiger’s progress on the pitch.
C Steady progress and a smart transfer
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