Saturday’s Champions League final treated observers to a tactical masterclass by Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel. The Blues shut down one of the world’s most potent offenses to win 1-0, with Reece James putting on a showcase and N’Golo Kante reminding us that he is still among the best central defensive midfielders in the world.
It was an auspicious night for English football, with the Mancunian behemoth squaring off against London’s Chelsea on a global stage with the championship of Europe hanging in the balance. But while the worldwide exposure was surely good for the English brand, the brand of football was decidedly English.
Indeed, an otherwise entertaining game (in my opinion anyway, YMMV) was marred by this incident in the 56th minute:
What I see when I watch this is Antonio Rudiger deliberately body-checking Kevin De Bruyne with the ball no longer even in the vicinity, and then immediately falling to the ground and feigning a head injury in a ruse to avoid discipline from the referee.
If you’re not convinced that Rudiger knew what he was doing, then here’s another video that may change your mind. Notice that instead of making any kind of attempt to avoid contact, the German plants his feet just prior to the hit and drives his hips towards KDB. This is no incidental coming-together.
The videos also show that KDB was beginning to develop a black eye even before the physios walked him off the pitch. Subsequent studies would reveal a broken nose and orbital fractures.
Is it ironic that at the time of the collision Rudiger was already wearing his own mask to protect the facial fractures he suffered when he collided with Luka Modric in Leg 1 of the UCL semis? Maybe yes, maybe no. The German defender has always been known as something of a hard-man who is more than willing to get stuck-in.
But this tackle raises the concern that he is actually something more sinister than that. Saturday’s events were reminiscent of the 2018 UCL final, in which Sergio Ramos flipped Mohamed Salah and delivered an elbow to the head of Loris Karius.
Here’s the incident with Salah, in which Ramos essentially executes a jiu-jitsu joint-lock to trap the Egyptian’s arm and yank it to throw Salah’s body into the ground:
And here is the Muay Thai elbow on Karius:
The impact with the ground (Ramos still pinning Salah’s arm as he falls on top of his shoulder) pulled Salah’s left arm out of its socket, forcing him out of the match. Karius continued on after his blow to the head, but he subsequently made several comical errors that cost Liverpool the trophy. Later, physicians at the Massachusetts General Hospital diagnosed him with a concussion that caused visual distortion and foggy cognition.
If it were someone else, perhaps we could extend the benefit of the doubt to Ramos over these displays of martial arts prowess. But although he is one of the most decorated defenders in world football, he also holds the record for the most red cards in Real Madrid history and in La Liga history, and he shares the record for most red cards in UCL history (although the record for most yellow cards in UCL history is his alone). His obvious football talent notwithstanding, Ramos is regarded by many as something of a thug.
Rudiger could develop a similar reputation. As far back as 2018 he neck-stomped Benjamin Pavard in a Germany v. France Nations League game, bloodying the Frenchman’s throat. More recently he openly praised the “dirty-side” of Mason Mount’s game, and was even ejected from his own training ground in April after a hard tackle on Kepa Arrizabalaga led to a bust-up that became physical.
In May Rudiger promised to “punish” Leicester after the Foxes “disrespected” Chelsea after their FA Cup match, and when the two clubs met again in the league just days later, Rudiger triggered a late-game bench-clearing brawl by squaring up to Ricardo Pereira after a tackle on Ben Chilwell. Both clubs were subsequently charged with misconduct by the FA.
His history gives us clues into Rudiger’s mindset as a player, raising suspicion that the collision with KDB was anything but an innocent coming-together. As a 28 year-old central defender, Rudiger is in the midst of his prime years as a professional footballer. Whether his legacy will be one of warrior or thug remains to be seen.
For now though it seems as if the black eye he left on KDB has also left a black eye on the Prem, right at the very moment the league was standing center-stage in the hot glare of the world’s spotlight.
What do you think of Rudiger’s collision with KDB? Was it clean or dirty? Should Rudiger have been shown red? Is Rudiger in danger of developing a reputation as a dirty player? Please take our poll, then share your thoughts in the comments below!
Was Antonio Rudiger’s collision with Kevin De Bruyne dirty?
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