Real Madrid’s signing of Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger on a free transfer fits with the Bernabeu club’s preferred way of doing business, and president Florentino Perez and coach Carlo Ancelotti will both be delighted at taking advantage of this market opportunity so quickly and efficiently.
The Athletic reported on Tuesday that Rudiger had signed a four-year contract to make the switch to the La Liga giants at the end of the current season, once his Chelsea contract ends.
The move follows Madrid having moved quickly to take advantage of similar situations where top international players are coming towards the end of their contract at peer clubs around Europe through recent seasons.
This policy goes back at least to Rudiger’s Germany team-mate Toni Kroos signing for a bargain €25 million in 2014 after he had decided not to renew with Bayern Munich, through to Thibaut Courtois joining for a cut-price €35 million in 2018 when his Chelsea deal was coming to an end. Most similar of all is David Alaba signing for Madrid for free last summer after his Bayern contract had run down completely.
As far back as August 2021, reporters close to the Madrid hierarchy said the club were watching Rudiger’s situation closely, and predicted that a free transfer was likely once his Chelsea deal ended. This was also explicitly stated as a way the Bernabeu club could compete with the “state clubs” like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, who are usually now able to out-gun Madrid at the very top of the market.
“Madrid have been working well on these types of deals for some years now,” a knowledgeable source told The Athletic last December. “Alaba’s signing was not by chance. They are always there looking at these opportunities in the market — like Rudiger.”
Other clubs were also interested in taking advantage of the situation to sign Rudiger, whose representatives were free to hold talks once his Chelsea contract entered its last six months back in January. There were conversations with Barcelona and Juventus, but Madrid are always confident of their ability to convince players to choose them, with the power and attraction of the club’s history and heritage having been shown so dramatically again in the last few months.
Money is also important, obviously. It is believed that Rudiger will earn between €9-10 million per year after tax — plus a signing-on fee. That is less than he initially asked for during talks with Madrid and Barcelona, but significantly more than he was earning at Chelsea. It puts him midway up the Bernabeu dressing room pay-scale, although well below the package that tempted Alaba to the Bernabeu last summer.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti was not closely involved in the decision to move for Rudiger as the Italian has been mostly concentrating on guiding the team to the title in La Liga and the Champions League final in recent months. Ancelotti is well aware that the coach at Madrid can have an input into transfer decisions, but it is the club hierarchy that takes the lead in identifying and pursuing targets.
Everyone at Madrid got a good look at Rudiger in both the last two Champions League seasons. He was excellent as Chelsea knocked Real out of the 2020-21 competition in the semi-finals, playing the pass that freed US international Christian Pulisic to score in the 1-1 first leg in Spain, then being key part of a back three that kept a clean sheet in the 2-0 return in London.
This year’s quarter-finals occurred when Rudiger already knew that Madrid was his most likely next club. During early April’s first leg he was partly at fault when losing a 50-50 challenge that allowed Karim Benzema to shoot to an empty net as the Spanish side won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. He was much more impressive in the return at the Bernabeu, including heading powerfully to the net early in the second half, as it seemed for a while that Chelsea were about to turn the tie around and progress. When that game swung back to Madrid, he got to experience first-hand the heat of the Bernabeu on the biggest Champions League nights.
While there was opportunism in Madrid’s decision to pursue Rudiger, there was also expediency, and Ancelotti will be happy to add another experienced defender to his squad. They lost both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane in summer 2021, and signed just Alaba, so have been a centre-back short during the current season. The Austrian and usual partner Eder Militao have done very well in La Liga, but the defence as a whole has struggled in the Champions League. Thibaut Courtois has been busy throughout the competition, making 52 saves, more than any other goalkeeper.
The third choice through the season has been long-term utility defensive back-up Nacho Fernandez. He has performed admirably, especially against City in the semi-finals when deputising for the injured Alaba, but is still not seen as someone who is primarily useful as cover all across the back four. The fourth choice, Jesus Vallejo, 25, has barely played this season and is expected to leave this summer.
Rudiger’s aerial prowess is attractive to Madrid as Alaba is not so dominant in the air and might be used next season at left-back where his leadership and attacking ability can be utilised. The German is also the defender with the most passes completed (681) in the Champions League this season, and can link with his international colleague Kroos during build-up play.
There were many reasons for Madrid to move for Rudiger as they have done, and lots of satisfaction around the Bernabeu at getting good business done early. Now they can concentrate on the summer’s other “market opportunity” – persuading Kylian Mbappe to join them as a free transfer from PSG.
(Top photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)