Children played a special role for Sebastian Rudy during his preparations for the coming season. At the start of training at TSG Hoffenheim in July, it was his son, David, who constantly cheered his dad on from the touchline and was visibly delighted as he sought contact with him. The fact that he was able to start his preparations for the 2021/22 season in Zuzenhausen and not in Gelsenkirchen, some 350 kilometres away, also put a permanent smile on Sebastian Rudy's face during the first training session. "It was always clear to me that I wanted to be here on a permanent basis again. Hoffenheim were my number one priority. And I am just so pleased that my family could even be present at the start of the training," TSG's number 16 said afterwards.
In the TSG Hoffenheim training camp in Rottach-Egern at Lake Tegernsee, it was again the next generation of the Rudy family that dominated the thoughts of the TSG star during the training sessions on the pitch – even though the latest member of that generation had not yet come into the world at the time. His wife, Elena, was in the ninth month of pregnancy and was expecting to deliver the newest member of the Rudy family any day – although the due date was actually not until the first week of August. That meant that while the native from the Black Forest was training, his mobile phone was always within hearing distance. In addition, team manager Maximilian Vollmer always parked Rudy's car at the training ground so that the expectant father could make the trip to the hospital at any time. The family did not know at that time whether Rudy's son, David, would be greeting a sister or brother: "We deliberately didn't want to know before the birth," Rudy said, adding with a smile: "We wanted it to be a surprise." Yet the Bundesliga first teamer's phone remained silent during the training sessions – and TSG's Rudy was spared the extra sprint training on the way to the hospital.
The German international with 29 caps experienced nerve-racking uncertainty even before returning to TSG – but that was not his choice. When his teammates went on their summer holidays after an intense season, the 31-year-old clarified his sporting future: "The uncertainty was always there. I was particularly concerned about where we would all be living next season. If I were single, it would be easy to pack my bags from one day to the next," he said, adding: "With a family, however, it is different. That's why the past few weeks have been difficult and I'm happy to have been signed by TSG on a permanent basis again."
Before that, the only thing he had ruled out was returning to Schalke, where he had terminated his contract, which was due to run until 2022, in June. The relegation and the numerous disappointments during his time at Schalke had left their mark. "It seemed to me that I had been chosen to be the public face of the crisis. Even though I always look at myself first when mistakes are made, and I'm sure I did make some, Schalke failed to protect me as a player," said Rudy decisively.
Return to the club his heart beats for
Rudy is particularly pleased with the timing of his transfer to TSG, "which was already decided before 30 June this year". The overdue signing of the contract clinched a return to the club his heart beats for. An important difference from previous years, because in the past two seasons, he either joined pre-season late or even came to TSG in the middle of the season. "Until now, I haven't had a proper pre-season at TSG. Now it was all the more important for me to step things up during the break and do something on holiday so that I was already in good shape for the start of pre-season," says Rudy, who moved to Hoffenheim for the first time in the summer of 2010 – at the time coming from VfB Stuttgart.
Eleven years later, he has lofty ambitions for his third return to the Kraichgau. In the final six games of the 2020/21 season, Rudy played only 33 minutes. Now he has spoken openly about his ideas for a tenth season at TSG: "I want to play, no question. At the end of last season, I was left out due to an injury. Now I am fit and have the quality to be a regular player here – and I will." Together with his new old team, the holder of the record for most TSG appearances is looking for significant improvements: "It's up to us to get back to where we can be in terms of performances. We have the quality to do better. I especially hope that we will get past the quarter-finals in the DFB-Pokal for the first time in TSG's history." Despite his rallying cry, the righter foot is demanding his side "be a little more reserved" this season and added: "We should not focus on tough targets like qualifying for Europe and should simply concentrate on our performances. Then we'll see where we end up."
For him, personal well-being in the region and at the club forms the basis of his sporting success. Near the TSG training ground, the 31-year-old has a house that he and his family "would have been reluctant to leave" in the summer. Some 200 kilometres from his birthplace in Villingen-Schwenningen, Rudy has found a second home: "The area, the people, the staff who work here that I interact with every day – there is simply a good relationship here." After his stints in Munich and in Gelsenkirchen, the family patriarch is back at a club "where everything is just right". Rudy is happy: "The club is run in a very honest way, and the people are always sincere in their actions. I trust the people and that is something of a rarity in this industry."
The trust that has been shown helped the midfielder achieve top performances after his first move to the Kraichgau 11 years ago. As a Hoffenheim player, Rudy matured into a Germany international and celebrated memorable success, winning the Confederations Cup with the DFB eleven in 2017. At the tournament in Russia, Rudy became a key figure and played from the start in all five games. "I will never forget that. It was an amazing tournament, we had a superb team. We had a lot of fun and that is why we were so successful. That's something I'll always look back on."
After the tournament, Rudy made the switch to Bayern Munich, where he was initially a regular in the team. The German powerhouse, however, transferred him to FC Schalke 04 after only one season, where Rudy's upward trend came to an abrupt end. Nevertheless, the man from the Black Forest still gives a positive verdict on his travels around Germany: "In Munich, I played with top players. I got a lot out of the time there, whether it was from the training sessions or the matches. Time has shaped me a lot."
TSG have also shaped Rudy – and vice versa. Alexander Rosen underlined the importance of signing him for the club: "Basti not only has a role to play on the pitch for us, but also in the dressing room and is very important for the young players in particular," said TSG's director of professional football, adding: "He has taken on TSG DNA during his many years here. Similar to Sejad Salihović or Kai Herdling before him, who are now successfully developing our young talents from the academy with the U23s."
Rudy exemplifies the attributes listed by Rosen. In the training sessions, he seeks contact with youth prospects, such as 16-year-old, Tom Bischof, and the midfield strategist is also a real leader. Even off the pitch, the international is a role model for his young teammates. Rudy is so grounded – something that is no longer a given in football. Polite, friendly, courteous – the nature of the man from South Baden is evident in every situation. Even after the training sessions, when Rudy drives home and makes his way back to his children – not in a luxury sportscar, but in an ordinary estate car that also has room for the latest addition to the Rudy household.
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