In just a decade, Antonio Rüdiger became one of the best centre-backs in football, a meteoric rise from the outskirts of the third German league to Real Madrid, winning the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League, the UEFA Super Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and the FIFA Confederations Cup with Chelsea, Real Madrid and Germany respectively.
Yet his ascent to stardom has been hardly easy. Born in a suburb of the German capital Berlin, to a German father and a Sierra Leonean mother, Rüdiger had to work harder than anyone to become one of the stalwarts in football.
Facing racism and plenty of injuries, the German centre-back did not have it easy. Yet here he is, preparing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a mainstay in both Real Madrid’s and Germany’s defence, with a chip on his shoulder, always giving everything on the pitch. This is the mentality he learnt and he was instilled from a very young age. Pme really helped him become one of the best in the world.
“When you come from a civil war to a nice place like Germany, it’s shocking at first, because you turn on the news and you see a cat stuck up in a tree. He climbed up there himself. He’s just chilling. But what do they do? They send the police and the fire trucks for this little cat. People gather around the tree. Some of them are crying. They send the fireman up on the ladder, and he rescues the cat, and they give him a blanket and a bowl of milk. Everybody cheers,” said Rüdiger in a op-ed for “The Players’ Tribune”.
“It is bittersweet, because Germany gave my family everything. My parents were refugees from the civil war in Sierra Leone. A lot of people don’t really know what happened there. Africa? What is Africa? Just the images on the TV of starving children with big bellies. You feel bad about it for a second, and then you change the channel. This is Africa, to some people. The third world, the forgotten world.”
But Rüdiger never forgot where he came from or the struggles that Sierra Leone still face. In 2021, he launched his charitable foundation for education in the country, pledging $40.000 to it. He also auctioned his signed Chelsea shirt, adding another $2.000 to the pot.
“This foundation means a lot to me, but I don’t want it to be a one-man show, I want everyone to admire it, especially the younger generation,” he said.
“I don’t consider myself a superstar, my parents always told me to be humble, that’s why I’m here today,” added Rüdiger. “I want to have that connection with people, so they don’t just see me as a footballer or a superstar.”
Now a member of the Germany team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a centre back who will probably feature in Hansi Flick’s line up, Rüdiger will donate a part of the funds he receives during the competition to fund life-changing surgeries for children in Sierra Leone.
“It hurts to see the circumstances in which Sierra Leonean children grow up. During surgery, the misalignment is corrected before patients can finally walk and participate in social life, after several months of follow-up treatment. In Germany I have been given opportunities that many people in Sierra Leone are denied. I am grateful for these opportunities and I greatly appreciate the privileged position I find myself in. Helping here is a matter of honour for me. I would like to implement many more projects in Sierra Leone with my family in the future,” said Rüdiger.
In total, the German centre-back has donated over $100.000 to his foundation and is hailed as a hero in his mother’s country for trying to help the children there.
But at Qatar 2022, the German centre-back will not only play for Germany but also for Sierra Leone, as a longer stay in the tournament will also translate to more money donated by Rüdiger.