Rudiger waves goodbye after five trophy-filled years at Chelsea
Antonio Rudiger waved goodbye to the Chelsea faithful yesterday before declaring: "It has been an incredible journey."
The popular centre-back, 29, was replaced in the 66th minute as Thomas Tuchel gave Ross Barkley a run out against Watford.
And it proved to be a masterstroke as the midfielder popped up at the death to head home the winner after Dan Gosling had cancelled out Kai Havertz’s opener.
But before Barkley sent the home support home happy, they made Rudiger’s day by giving him a standing ovation as he left the pitch.
The German, who will join Real Madrid as a free agent this summer, said: "To play in this game and receive this reception, I cannot say more than thank you.
"Thank you for the support — I will never forget this club. It will always be special to me.
"We are like a family here. We are always together. For me, this is very tough, it’s not easy.
"It’s been an incredible journey."
Having joined Chelsea from Roma for £29million in July 2017, Rudiger quickly became a firm favourite with both his team-mates and the club's fans.
He displayed his footwork on and off the pitch — often breaking into dance in the dressing room after the Blues added a trophy to their collection.
And he leaves Stamford Bridge as an FA Cup, Europa League, Champions League, Super Cup and Club World Cup winner.
Rudiger added: "For me, it’s always important to give everything for the badge and the supporters. I would say I tried my best to do that.
"It was really special [the reaction] when I came off."
As Tuchel has openly admitted, Chelsea will struggle to replace Rudiger this summer.
His influence on the pitch and behind the scenes will be sorely missed — and Carlo Ancelotti will be in no doubt about how good a player Real have landed.