Antonio Rudiger has professed he will "always be Chelsea" as he prepares to leave the Stamford Bridge club at the end of the season.
The 29-year-old defender has established himself as an important figure since Thomas Tuchel took charge of the Blues last year but will leave the club next month after the expiration of his contract – with Real Madrid widely seen as his likely destination.
Rudiger has played 33 Premier League games for Chelsea this term, contributing to 14 clean sheets as Tuchel's men secured a top-four finish, and will make his final appearance against Watford on Sunday.
Writing about his imminent departure for The Players' Tribune, Rudiger emphasized his emotional connection to the club, where he has become a fans' favorite since arriving in 2017.
The Germany international recalled one instance where he was on the receiving end of abuse from a Chelsea fan, which turned into a moment of solidarity, saying he will always be grateful for the support shown to him in west London.
"This one guy in the crowd started shouting abuse at me," Rudiger said, looking back on a 6-0 loss to Manchester City in 2019. "He was maybe five meters away, looking me right in the eyes.
"Listen, I have heard abuse all my life, but this was different. It was really personal. I shouted to him, 'Hey, if you want to talk, then come down here, and we can have a conversation.
"Of course, he didn't even take one step. Immediately, he stopped shouting. And what was remarkable to me was that all the fans around him turned to him and said, 'Hey, what are you doing? What's wrong with you?' The fans – the real fans – started cheering for me even louder.
"It was so overwhelming that even the idiot started clapping, too. The other fans literally made him clap and apologize to me.
"I will never forget that. Never. There is hatred in the football world, for sure. That's a fact. I have experienced the worst of it. But there is also a lot of joy, too. At Chelsea, I experienced both extremes.
"Yes, I heard the abuse. But I also felt the love. At the end of the day, the light was stronger than the darkness. For that, I will always be Chelsea."
Although he never lifted the Premier League trophy with Chelsea, Rudiger has played a key role in Europa League, FA Cup , and Champions League triumphs during his time with the club.
Having fallen out of favor under Frank Lampard, he rediscovered his form under Tuchel as Chelsea were crowned European champions last season, although his final campaign at Stamford Bridge has been plagued by off-pitch uncertainty.
However, Rudiger reiterated the takeover saga that has surrounded the club for much of 2022 had little bearing on his decision to leave, noting talks over a new contract had already begun to stall last year.
"Chelsea will always be in my heart," he wrote. "London will always be my home. I came here alone, and now I have a wife and two beautiful kids. I also have a new brother for life named Kova [Mateo Kovacic].
"I have an FA Cup, a Europa League, and a Champions League medal. And of course, I have hundreds of memories that will stay with me forever.
"Unfortunately, my contract negotiations had already started to get difficult last fall. Business is business, but when you don't hear any news from the club from August to January, the situation becomes complicated.
"After the first offer, there was a long gap of just nothing. We're not robots, you know? You cannot wait for months with so much uncertainty about your future."