ANTONIO RUDIGER faced sickening racism in Italy and admits: “You feel alone.”
Chelsea’s £31million signing is getting ready for life in the Premier League and had a rollercoaster journey to get to Stamford Bridge.
The 24-year-old could have joined a year ago before a knee injury struck during international duty with Germany. It meant one more season at Roma where he got to grips with the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi — and also the racist thugs in the stands.
Centre-back Rudiger was targeted with monkey chants when Roma faced city rivals Lazio in the Coppa Italia semi-final last season.
The abuse was so bad in the first half at the Stadio Olimpico that the announcer warned the Lazio fans the match would be interrupted if it continued. The chanting died down after the threat.
But, sitting in Chelsea’s team hotel in Singapore, Rudiger described exactly how he felt to be subjected to the racist abuse.
He said: “You feel alone. I can keep my focus but people love to say ‘stay calm’ or ‘don’t do anything’.
“It is easy for you to say those things when you are not black and you never feel what it is like.
“You cannot put yourself in my position of how that feels.
“In that moment, it is like this: You are alone.
“You have to be strong. But each human is different. Someone takes it and doesn’t react. Others react. I can understand both.”
Despite the abuse, Rudiger insists he does not regret his time in Serie A but wants the authorities to take firmer action against offenders.
He added: “I just want justice. I want Fifa or the FA in Italy to suspend those people who do that.
“Those people need to be banned from the stadium or fined.
“It is not all the people in Italy who are like that. If we always talk about racism in Italy, people think that all Italians are racist people and it is not like that.”
Germany is proud of its diverse football team and Rudiger could have played for Sierra Leone through his mother.
His route to the Premier League started by playing football on the Berlin streets.
Rudiger’s half-brother Sahr Senesie, who played for Borussia Dortmund, was his mentor and the Chelsea star still leans on him for advice.
He said: “He speaks about what he experienced and for me that was a big, big help. It is always good if
you have someone in your family who experienced something so he can speak to you in a different way.
“We didn’t live together but we speak on the phone and talk. Not only about football. There is more in life than just football.”
Despite being a massive fan of Thierry Henry, it became clear that Rudiger was destined to be a defender.
He said: “I started off as a striker but that changed at the age of 16. Before I was not a tall guy. I was small.
“So I used to play on the wings or as a striker, then at the age of 16 I started growing and the coach decided to let me play in defence.
“Compared to then, there are different types of strikers now. Strong strikers, fast strikers, technical guys. Football has changed.”
And 6ft 3in Rudiger found he was capable of stopping them all, leading to his breakthrough at Stuttgart. His loan at Roma turned into a permanent deal but Chelsea have always been in the background and may have got him a year ago before his knee injury.
He said: “The injury could have been the biggest moment of my career.
“But I believe in God and everything has its time. So one year later I won the Confederations Cup and I am at Chelsea.
“Of course, at that moment it was sad.
“I knew then I had to work to get stronger. And this is what happened.
“I always wanted to play in the Premier League and it is now years since my name was first linked to Chelsea.
“Everything bides its time. It wasn’t the right moment and now I am here.”
Now he is ready to prove himself in the Premier League as Chelsea attempt to defend their title.
He said: “I have not experienced the Premier League yet but the Italian league is more tactical. You don’t have these open games.
“And in England this is different. Both teams are attacking the whole time.
“That is the main two differences between the two leagues. And of course the physical aspect in England.
“You need to prepare for a physical game.
“There are a lot strikers — Jamie Vardy, [Romelu] Lukaku — where you look at them and it is a challenge. The whole league is a challenge.”
Rudiger discussed his journey to Chelsea — and how happy he was to complete his move — but also has his initiation song on his mind.
He said: “I’m not nervous now but later, standing in front of everyone while they are looking and watching?
“Then maybe I’ll be a little nervous. But I think I’ll make a good performance.”
Keep up to date with all the latest news, gossip, rumours and done deals in SunSport’s live transfer blog