Antonio Rudiger on almost leaving Chelsea and his Champions League inspiration

The pictures on the walls are a reminder of past glories but an inspiration for future success.

Antonio Rudiger admits he dreams of emulating the Chelsea heroes of 2012, winning the European Cup which he says would be the “pinnacle” of his career.

But Rudiger also knows that making that become a reality in the Champions League final is the really hard if this generation want to write their names into club folklore.

Germany defender Rudiger said: “You watch players lifting trophies, at the training ground you walk around the building, you see the pictures of former players in the last few years and you see yourself, picture yourself and it’s something you cannot replace in your mind.

“It is the pinnacle 100 per cent.

“Of course you dream of this when you’re a youngster, when you are growing up and just starting out. You watch football, you watch Champions League games or whatever trophy.

Antonio Rudiger is hoping to guide Chelsea to their second Champions League sucesss

“It’s good to have this dream but it’s another thing to make it a reality and that is the tough part.

“That is why I’m careful with this, because at the end of the day you have to do the job first and then you can have the reality. Then you look after the good, happy pictures and then it’s nice.

“But to dream too much about it, to picture it, no. You can’t allow yourself.”

Rudiger, 28, is a big character at Chelsea, a leader in defence and a joker in the dressing room but also an incredibly driven professional.

You only need to look at his performances for Chelsea in the second half of the season to realise just how much winning means to him – especially in the big games.

Rudiger was an absolute giant against Real Madrid in the semi final at Stamford Bridge, he was magnificent that night in helping Chelsea defeat the 13 time European champions and yet he did not think it was his best performance of the season.

“What can I say? You don’t need to be motivated for a game like this. Everyone expected that, in the end, we would not go through, that it would be too difficult but that underdog role got something extra out of us all,” said Rudiger.

“We wanted to prove something and show that we can beat a great side like that. It was double motivation.

“For me, myself, it’s to lead by example and do whatever it takes to win and go through.

Rudiger was one of Chelsea best players in their semi-final defeat of Real Madrid

“It was a great game for me but I think that was maybe not my best game of the season. That was Leicester at home.

“But I had a good game against Real Madrid, I enjoyed myself obviously and I like to play against players like Benzema and Eden Hazard and it was the first time I’ve played against him. I really enjoyed it.

“But there was big pressure, we also did a good game away from and I’ve never played in a Champions League semi final before and not a final and we needed that extra step to get there.

“I like the pressure. I like pressure games. This is my strength. I come from that side – passion, emotion, motivation and being driven.”

Antonio Rudiger celebrates after the win over Real Madrid
Antonio Rudiger celebrates after the win over Real Madrid

That is why Rudiger is ready to thrive on the pressure in Saturday’s all-English final.

He knows the stories from Chelsea’s triumph in 2012 when they were not given a hope against Bayern Munich in their own backyard when the Germans were red-hot favourites.

But that is what inspires Rudiger and, having the FA Cup and Europa League, losing two FA Cup finals and the League Cup final seem to hurt him more which is why he believes they are in the right mindset to upset the odds.

He added: “Here we don’t talk about it, there are no players from that winning team so we didn’t really talk about it that much.

“But I think in our heads, for sure, everyone knows how this situation was for the team in 2012 and how the situation is today. This will do a lot for us.

“You never know what could happen tomorrow.

“You never know when you’ll be in this type of game again in your career and this could be huge for everyone here.

“If you look back, the amount of finals Chelsea have lost, and also for the fans, it’s hard to take and this can make you forget a little bit as a fan and as a player it can give you a boost of course because you can show that maybe winning it before was not a one off.”

Rudiger was out of favour under Frank Lampard

Rudiger also revealed just how close he came to leaving Chelsea last summer.

The Chelsea defender found himself out of favour under former boss Frank Lampard and Tottenham and Paris Saint Germain were keen to sign him before his revival under Thomas Tuchel.

Rudiger said: “When you look back to the summer, there were points I wanted to leave.

“Because if you think about my age, what’s coming up this summer, the Euros and everything, I didn’t see myself in the squad for one month so my first thought was to leave.

“It was kind of close, there were serious talks but it didn’t happen.

“Then I stayed, I had a chat with Frank and then I was back in the squad. I got some game time and then towards the end of Lampard’s reign, I started to play a bit more.

“Then I said to myself: ‘OK, let’s see what happens.’ Then my mindset was to work my way back, the change came and things went well and my relationship with Thomas Tuchel is normal and there’s a respect there which is how it should be.

“At the end of the day, the coach has his vision of football and how he wants us to perform and he backs it 1,000 per cent. You can see it on the sidelines. It’s like a tunnel vision, he has things in his mind and he wants us to perform like that.”

Rudiger enjoys being the joker in the pack at Stamford Bridge.

Rudiger said: “I’ve got a sense of humour but everyone is different.

“For me, it’s not about jokes, more trying to make people laugh, maybe the way I walk, fooling around, it’s good to see other people smile and even if they’re laughing at me then it’s OK.

“The most important thing is to laugh and I can laugh at myself, I have no problems with that. Football has got so much pressure outside and inside why should it be like that?

“Of course when it comes to games, it’s good to have this because it drives everyone.

“But as soon as you step out from the pitch, you need to have fun. Obviously when you lose you can’t laugh but on a training day, why can’t you laugh? It should be normal, in my opinion.”

However, Rudiger admits he is a different person away from the pitch.

““Oh 100 per cent. I’m more relaxed. I like to read books. At home or at work, you have to set an environment which is right.

“You need to have fun no matter what situation is.”

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