Antonio Rudiger proud of coming through tough times to enjoy Chelsea trophy success

Toni Rudiger has revealed how digging into his true character helped turn testing times into a trophy-laden 12 months at Chelsea.

The Germany defender explained why sticking to his principles might just be his proudest personal achievement amid the Blues lifting the Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup.

At times a peripheral figure in Frank Lampard’s tenure, Rudiger has been a centre-back reborn under Thomas Tuchel, boasting fearsome tactical acumen and blockbusting drives out of defence.

And now the 28-year-old has lifted the lid on the secret to Blues boss Tuchel’s success as good, old-fashioned honesty.

Chelsea will face Liverpool in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final with Rudiger determined the Blues can deliver their big-game know-how once again.

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“I’m proud of my whole career, but what’s happened in the last year, it’s amazing,” Rudiger told the PA news agency.

“As a group we have achieved a lot, and had a great time. There have also been some downs, which is normal, I think. Personally, of course I’m enjoying this moment.

“It’s one thing though when you feel good, when everything is well set up and the team is performing well.

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“But I think I showed who I am when times were difficult, and this is what counts more to me.

“Because in good times everyone shines, everyone is good, so there’s no need to say anything.

“But the real character of a person is what you see when he is down, and this is what I proved, to myself.

“It’s not about proving to someone else, just proving to myself.

“I think a career’s all about chapters. When you’re young it’s a different chapter.

“But this chapter, yeah, it’s some of the best football I’m playing.

“I think Thomas’ secret is that he’s just honest. He’s just honest with how he goes about things.

“He demands a lot, but that’s normal. This is high, high quality football and we want to be successful.

“So if you want to be successful you have to be honest, you have to be straightforward in the way of working, and application to the cause.

“A coach is a general, he has his way and at the end of the day as players we have to do our best to follow.

“What he has achieved since he’s been here speaks for itself.

“We tend to perform very well in big games on big occasions. Sunday is a massive, massive match against a great, great opponent.

“They are in big form, but it’s a final, it’s one game and you never know what’s going to happen, both teams can hurt each other.”

Rudiger’s sparkling form and positive influence are all the more impressive given he remains out of contract this summer.

Chelsea still hope to tie up a new deal for one of their top performers despite interest from Real Madrid and Paris St Germain.

Rudiger’s focus has not once wavered from his Chelsea quest, as evidenced in the Blues’ 2-1 Club World Cup final win over Palmeiras.

As Kai Havertz lined up his decisive penalty against the Sao Paulo side, Rudiger knelt on the Abu Dhabi pitch and said a good-luck prayer.

When Havertz’s strike hit the net, Rudiger raced upfield to celebrate with his team-mates as Chelsea claimed their third big prize under Tuchel.

The demonstrative defender’s passionate approach extends beyond the pitch too, having supported healthcare staff during the pandemic and now launching his own foundation.

Rudiger visited Sierra Leone earlier this month to see his foundation take shape, relishing a chance to connect with his mother’s homeland.

Asked about the Club World Cup, Rudiger replied: “Yes I was praying, I was praying for him, for Kai to score the penalty.

“I just prayed for him to score and for us to lift up this trophy. It meant a lot to us, and so that’s why I was very, very happy.

“Now if I look back, I’m thinking ‘oh wow’, but it’s just who I am, I’m an emotional person.

“Showing support for people in healthcare, it’s not just about the pandemic: these people are always on the front line, even putting themselves at risk.

“That was just a small appreciation, and I hope it put smiles on faces.

“I launched the foundation in Sierra Leone and it was important to do it there.

“When I visited, the reception was amazing, I’d never experienced anything like this anywhere before. It’s about building bridges, trying to do something good, and it comes from the heart.

“I was born and raised in Germany, and I feel German but I also feel Sierra Leonean, because my mother is from there and she always explained things to me about over there.”

Sunday’s Wembley final promises another high-octane clash between two teams that tend to bring out the attacking best in each other.

Chelsea rallied for a rousing 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge on January 2, leaving Rudiger excited about the manner of this match.

“You have to match their high-intensity football,” said Rudiger.

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“That’s why it’s maybe more open against them.

“Their attack is brutal, so you cannot just defend, defend; you must have answers. And sometimes the best defence really is to attack.”

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