When Germany international Antonio Rüdiger joined Chelsea from AS Roma in early July, he maybe wasn’t the glamorous signing that many Chelsea fans were hoping for, having previously been linked with moves for Leonardo Bonucci and Virgil van Dijk.
What he did bring with him, though, was plenty of experience, which is crucial in a season where Champions League football returns to Stamford Bridge. Having benefited from a suspension for captain Gary Cahill, he has so far featured in every single league game this season and hasn’t looked out of place whatsoever.
Antonio Rüdiger’s ability to quickly adapt to life in the Premier League doesn’t come as a surprise to Tim Jauer, who coached Chelsea’s summer signing at SV Tasmania Berlin between 2002 and 2005.
Tim gave us his first impressions of his former player, who he calls Toni, when they first met 15 years ago, his reaction to an unfortunate knee injury ahead of Euro 2016, and reasons why the defender will succeed for club and country.
Chelsea HQ: Antonio Rüdiger was just at the beginning of his footballing career, when he moved to SV Tasmania Berlin in 2002 at the tender age of nine. What were your first impressions of him and were there already signs that he would become a very successful professional?
Tim Jauer: Toni has always been a very lively young man who knew right from the start what he wanted to be: a professional footballer. He was always fully focused on training and on matches, absorbing everything he was taught. Off the pitch, he liked being the team clown and always ensured that there was a good atmosphere. He was always involved in pranks but also knew how to get out of unpleasant situations.
I would also like to mention that his parents or sisters attended almost every training session. They are all kind-hearted people and I am glad I was able to meet them – I also hope they are all well!
Chelsea HQ: Did he ever tell you about any dreams or aspirations at the time? A dream club maybe?
Tim Jauer: Toni’s ambition was always to play in the Premier League one day. He always liked the more physical and more intensive side of football and knew that he would feel comfortable there.
Chelsea HQ: Today, your former protégé is a very flexible defender, who can play in almost every position across the back line. Were there times where he preferred a more attacking role or did he always feel at home in defence?
Tim Jauer: We started off by playing him in defence, but later due his stature and enormous determination, we used him as a striker. He would always come out on top, thanks to his physical strength, and was a real poacher that any coach would have dreamed of.
Chelsea HQ: After a successful spell with AS Roma, where he gathered his first Champions League experience, Antonio signed for Chelsea this summer. Do you think he will cope with the Premier League’s physicality, especially after suffering a bad knee injury last year?
Tim Jauer: His knee injury won’t have an impact, he’s a fighter and will succeed at Chelsea. The physicality in England won’t be a problem for him – he has a heart like a lion and doesn’t fear anything. He and the Premier League are a perfect match for each other.
Chelsea HQ: The injury we mentioned, just days before the start of Euro 2016, was a huge blow for him. How did you react when you heard the news?
Tim Jauer: I was shocked. I knew that Joachim Löw had held him in high regard and he would have certainly been part of the starting XI. My first thought was: Oh, sh*t! However, shortly after I knew the injury would only make him stronger and that he would come back a better player.
Chelsea HQ: Löw is already a big fan. Do you think Antonio’s move to one of the best clubs in Europe will also help him cement his place for Germany? He played a big role in winning the Confederations Cup for his country this year.
Tim Jauer: Toni will become an integral part of the national team. Playing in the Premier League and being part of a top club like Chelsea will help him enormously in his development both as a person and as a footballer.
Chelsea HQ: Are you or your colleagues at Tasmania Berlin still in touch with Antonio at all – or has he visited the club since?
Tim Jauer: Unfortunately not with him personally, but I have a good relationship with his brother and agent, Sahr Senesie, who also played in our youth ranks and later become a successful professional. He remains close to his former club. However, we’re still missing an Antonio Rüdiger shirt!
It’s very important that Toni, in all this time, has never hidden or forgotten about his origins in Berlin-Neukölln. Growing up on the football pitches over here made him the person he is today. Competing with some of the older and stronger guys was a challenge he always enjoyed.
Chelsea HQ: Should he read this interview, do you have a personal message for him?
Tim Jauer: Toni, don’t ever stop being the crazy guy you are, keep learning, work on your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Believe in yourself! Send my regards to your lovely family, especially your mum. We are proud of you and have our fingers crossed for your future!
We thank Tim for taking the time to talk to Chelsea HQ and wish him the best of luck with his coaching career – hopefully bringing through another future Chelsea player!