The relationship between Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and bright young Chelsea academy graduate Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been the source of ongoing drama for quite some time.
That's partly Mourinho's fault, as such things tend to be, having first built up the young man almost to the point where he could never live up to our and the manager's expectations, then tearing him down, when he inevitably didn't. Then came the first challenge and a second. And RLC seemingly had answered all that, and claimed a spot in the Chelsea first-team for this season.
But it's probably safe to say that things haven't gone exactly to plan. Even when Chelsea were struggling tremendously, and Mourinho threatened to drop the established players to play the kids, and then essentially promised to give Loftus-Cheek, specifically, a run in the first-team, all that amounted to was a grand total of 45 minutes and a substitution at half-time.
It's easy to blame Mourinho of course, but some responsibility has to rest on the 19-year-old's shoulders as well. His performances, as can be expected for a young kid, are inconsistent, but that's hardly a damning indictment. More concerning is the often perceived lack of "effort" when it comes to the languid midfielder. Effort may only get you so far when talent's lacking, but when the talent is there, lack of effort can often lead to major disappointment.
"Sometimes young players can argue that the chances were not too many for them. Ruben is the last one who can complain about that."
"He is a player who we have lots of hope for but, sooner or later, he - him, not me - has to give one step forward to be more stable in the first team.
"It's easier to get chances in smaller clubs. At big clubs, not many players his age have the opportunities he has had to start matches in the Premier League, Champions League and the cups, to be on the bench for lots of matches consecutively, living and learning with top players. So he is having everything."
-Jose Mourinho; source: Express
As an example what Loftus-Cheek should be striving for, Mourinho brings up Kurt Zouma, who's only 15 months older but has already become basically our first-choice center back (unless he's pigeonholed in at right back or midfield destroyer).
"Zouma is in his second season at this level and is unleashing himself as a top player. When he came here, he was not the player he is now. I remember the first two matches he played for us in pre-season in 2014. He was very bad. But now he's a player, fighting with (John) Terry and (Gary) Cahill hand to hand."
-Jose Mourinho; source: Express
That preseason had many questioning just why Chelsea had plunked down the cash for the young Frenchman, who has since gone from strength to strength in proving his doubters wrong. He is of course inconsistent as well, not unexpected at such a young age at such a crucial, often cerebral position, and he's had his fair share of head-shaking moments of hilarity, but he's doing something right. And Loftus-Cheek isn't. Which is a shame, because RLC is one of "our own", having been at Chelsea since almost before he knew his ABCs. We all want him to succeed, including, supposedly, the manager himself. But according to the boss, Ruben needs to step it up as well.
A few days ago, Chelsea Technical Director Michael Emenalo spoke of how there is no free lunch at Chelsea, how players won't be handed opportunities as they would Christmas gifts. In this philosophy, manager and director clearly agree and are on the same page. What say you, Ruben?
(Anyone willing to put money down on Loftus-Cheek getting the start today and putting in a man of the match performance?)