This article first appeared on ESPN FC in March 2017.
Antonio Rudiger has been attracting the interest of the Premier League’s elite, and Chelsea in particular. A few months back, sources told ESPN FC that Manchester City, United and Chelsea scouts all watched him play for Germany against England.
The 24-year-old Roma defender already has plenty of admirers, but here are five things to know about him.
1. He grew up on the streets of Berlin and played for Borussia Dortmund’s academy
The son of a German father and a Sierra Leonean mother, Rudiger grew up in Berlin and learned his trade out on the concrete pitches of Germany’s capital.
“You learn football on the streets, and that’s completely different to playing for a club,” the defender said in an interview in 2014. “It’s rougher out on the street. I played for my life, defeat was not an option for anyone. You play differently.”
Football is what rescued him: “Whenever I was in danger of going to the bad side, my mates told me to stop it and focus on football and my talent instead of destroying my future.”
During his early years, Rudiger played for various clubs in Berlin’s south, before moving on to Hertha Zehlendorf as a 13-year-old in 2006 and then to Borussia Dortmund two years later.
2. He came through the ranks of Stuttgart’s second team
When Rudiger was offered the chance to play for VfB Stuttgart’s second team in 2011 instead of continuing in BVB’s Under-19 setup, he took it and even sat out a six-month suspension after Dortmund and his new club failed to reach an agreement before the end of the transfer window.
As an 18-year-old he made his professional debut in January 2012 as a right-back and went on to feature in 66 Bundesliga games for the club until 2015. His pace, tackling and aerial prowess soon turned him into one of Germany’s hottest young prospects. Though he kept his feet firmly on the ground.
“It’s a compliment, but I am Antonio Rudiger,” he told kicker when Germany head coach Joachim Low likened him to Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng, who also grew up in Berlin.
3. He was linked with Premier League clubs early in his career
The recent links with Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have continued the Roma defender’s flirtation with the Premier League. He made his international debut in 2014 and though he missed out on the World Cup, he was linked to host of big clubs including West Ham, Manchester United and Chelsea, who maintained their interest in Rudiger when he moved on to Roma in 2015 and only ended it after he sustained an anterior cruciate ligament tear in the build-up to Euro 2016.
“I’ve been hearing the rumours about Chelsea for three years already,” he said in 2016, adding that it remains his dream to play in England.
4. He has had problems with discipline and injuries
A tough-tackler, discipline can be an issue and he received two straight red cards during his time at VfB Stuttgart for violent conduct. This season, he has picked up six yellow cards in 18 appearances for Roma, having returned from his injury after less than five months in late October. He was sent off in the Europa League match vs. Villarreal earlier this year.
“I am hard against the ball, but fair against my opponents,” he said in 2014.
Rudiger has also had three major knee surgeries in his young career. He was twice operated on for meniscus problems in 2014 and 2015, with the latter surgery nearly jeopardising his move to Roma that summer.
5. He has named Thiago Silva and his brother as his role models
While the defender has named Thiago Silva as the player he idolises most on the pitch, he has continuously praised his half-brother, former Bundesliga player Sahr Senesie, as one of his key motivators in life.
The pair were flatmates during Rudiger’s time at VfB Stuttgart and after a career which saw him play for Germany U21 and Borussia Dortmund before dropping down into the lower leagues, he now represents his younger brother as an agent.
Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.