The biggest question with Antonio Rudiger

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As the rumors linking Antonio Rudiger to Real Madrid intensify, Madridistas are spending more time weighing the pros and cons of the club signing the Chelsea center back on a free transfer. Rudiger’s contract runs out at the end of the season, and while both he and manager Thomas Tuchel would like a resolution that keeps the German international in London, the player and management are far apart on a salary agreement.

Rudiger wants to be paid in a way that respects his quality. And as a free agent, Rudiger would get that money. Whether it is from Real, Bayern Munich, PSG, or any other team with interest in him, Rudiger will get what he wants.

The figure floated around is 12 million euros, but MARCA provides new information suggesting this number is inaccurate. Rudiger’s demands are significant but apparently not that much higher than the reported seven million euros in wages he currently earns at Chelsea.

So how high will his salary go with the caliber of teams interested and no transfer fee to offset his possible earnings? That is one question Madridistas will be asking, but it is not the right question. Because, ultimately, it does not matter.

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At the age of 28, this will likely be Rudiger’s last big payday. As with David Alaba, Rudiger is a center back hitting free agency in the prime of his career. And like Alaba, he will command eight figures in salary and get a deal around four years.

The real question is this: Will Antonio Rudiger be good enough for Real Madrid in three to four years?

We know Rudiger is good enough now. He was a starter for the team that won the Champions League last season. You can add in any qualifiers you want about him being in a back three or anything else, but he is good enough to be the third center back behind Eder Militao and Alaba, whose spots are entrenched.

The issue is if he will be capable of starting games for Real Madrid – potentially important games – in three years by the time he would have one year left on his contract. I mention this timeline, because if he were to decline before the completion of his deal, it would be OK to take one “down” year if Real were able to win trophies via three years of strong contributions from Rudiger. But if he were to decline or flounder before then, Real would have a situation on their hands.

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Free agents are not risk-free despite being free. The biggest risk is that you sign someone to a big contract, they decline or do not fit your team, and you have no way of getting rid of a player at or above the age of 30 who is making around 10 million euros per year. Look at how few suitors Isco’s had, for example. Or for a free agent-specific example, look at how Juventus were saddled with the contracts of Sami Khedira, Adrien Rabiot, and, most prominently, the injury-prone Aaron Ramsey.

If Real Madrid pay the highest rumored salary to Rudiger, 12 million euros, and he is good for the club, nobody will care about how much money he is making for the duration of the deal. But if they sign him for cheaper, say, nine million euros, and he struggles within his first two seasons, he will be impossible to move, take up wage space, and take up a spot in the squad. Then, fans will be upset, and his salary will only matter insofar as it makes him onerous for a mid-level side that wants to take a gamble on him.

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At the end of the day, if Rudiger is capable of shining for Real Madrid, he is worth the price. If he is not, then his salary will exceed the income bracket of the teams that would be interested in a reclamation.

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So for Real Madrid, it is crucial that they know exactly who they are getting in Rudiger and have confidence he fits and will maintain or even improve his level of play. Everything else is a matter of a few million euros and is inconsequential to the real risk/reward calculation involved with signing a notable, experienced free agent like Rudiger.

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