Antonio Rudiger: This is the story of my life
I am Antonio Rudiger and I was born in Berlin on 3rd March 1993. My father is German, my mother is from Sierra Leone but my whole family comes from Africa.
Our ‘team’ is made up of four sisters and a brother. I am the youngest one, the little one, although I am 190 cm tall.
We were never a wealthy family. My parents had to undergo sacrifices, especially after escaping from Sierra Leone due to the civil war.
However, they always insisted on the meaning of the word dignity and encouraged us to nurture our dreams. By the way, the other young boy of the house, my brother Sahr, is also a football player.
He played both for Borussia Dortmund and the German national team at youth level. Borussia was my springboard too, after playing at Hertha Zehlendorf.
At Dortmund, I played both for the U17 and U19 teams, before moving to Stuttgart, the club that gave me a reputation in professional football.
By the way, as a defender, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels are my role models.
Let’s take a step back. I began kicking a ball around at VfB Sperber Neukölln, a small club based in Berlin It was a tough neighbourhood, densely populated by immigrants, nothing to do with the wealthy students and artists it is nowadays. However, that neighbourhood runs through my veins — it is something that belongs to me.
The same applies to my African roots: it means a lot to me, they affected my culture and my way of being. I visited Sierra Leone when I was 15 and I would like to go back there as soon as possible to see how things are going. It is a country that needs help and I will try my best to do my bit although the magnitude of the problems is such that everyone’s help is needed.
So, to recap: Africa and Germany, different cultures, the opportunity to integrate and perceive the world through different eyes.
Thanks to my friends on the street and my mates in the dressing-room, I have never felt alone. In this melting pot of ethnic groups, I had the destiny in my name. If your name is Antonio, how can you not end up playing in Italy?
Last summer I chose Roma.
It really was a choice. I had drawn the attention of a number of teams, but when Roma came forward, I had no hesitation.
Roma was my challenge. I knew it instantly. Everyone was telling me that Rome is both passion and pressure.
My reply was that a player cannot fear pressure as it is part of his job. Well, I have to admit that here expectations are very high and it gets tough when things do not go well. I paid the price in the first few months because of some mistakes. However, I never gave up and things gradually improved. After all, you develop through difficult times.
At one point of the season I realised I had to improve and I knew I could do it. I never lacked willpower. If you want something in life, you have to fight for it.
I would like to put an end to the story of my first season at Roma with a memory of the last game we played at the Stadio Olimpico. I was told there were many children on the stands. I like to think that when I headed into the net the 2–0 goal against Chievo, all children felt one big hug. After all, football can do this kind of magic.
When I was low, not only did I receive a confidence boost from my coaches and team-mates in Rome, but I was always held in high esteem by the national team coach, Joachim Löw.
This summer I had planned to be wearing the Germany shirt with pride at the European Championships in France.
Germany is the country I grew in, both as a man and a player.
I was looking forward to competing against the very best opponents taking part in this competition. I saw it as a great opportunity and, in a way, it is a story that would have come full circle, that of a family fleeing from Africa, going through hard times in a new country before finally managing to integrate and redeem itself.
At the Euros I would have taken with me the enthusiasm deriving from the season I spent at Roma. Also, in my bag I would have taken my music, my strictly black headphones and my sneakers. I don’t know where this passion comes from, but I am by now a collector of sneakers.
And, who knows, maybe I would have found some time to visit the zoo. I like animals in general — lions and tigers in particular. I have already been three times at the Bioparco in Rome!
However, a knee injury now means I won’t be going to Euro 2016. I have a message for my fans: You may see me struggle but you will never see me quit.
It’s unbelievable how many messages have reached me since my injury.
Thank you very much for your incredible support!
In the mean time, I am being treated in Trier, where I am close to my friends and family. I have got over the first shock and now I am looking ahead with confidence again.
I wish my successor Jonathan Tah and, of course, the whole Germany team great success for Euro 2016.
Although I won’t be able to take part, I am looking forward to watching the first game of Germany on Sunday as a supporter. You can do it guys!
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