Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a young man of undeniable talent but also of undeniably poor luck with injuries. The latest, an ankle issue that came close to needing surgery, followed by knee soreness when he resumed training, has limited him to just 108 minutes since the new year. Before returning to action after the March international break, the Chelsea loanee had missed 2.5 months, or almost a third of the season. It looked like his World Cup dreams were over despite good showings for Crystal Palace. Fortunately for him, England manager Gareth Southgate remains a big fan, just as when he was in charge of the England U21s.
And if the Daily Mail is to be believed, the fix is in, the race for the World Cup squad is rigged and basically all RLC has to do is not break. The newspaper, which often has nothing more than a nodding acquaintanceship with the truth, claims that Southgate wants very much to include the Chelsea midfielder in his squad. The 22-year-old fills a need that no other player can, apparently, with his combination of size, speed and skill in a position where the national team lack depth. It doesn’t hurt that he was named Man of the Match after an impressive display against Germany in a November friendly at Wembley.
Southgate reportedly has three spots open in his 23-man squad but has penciled in RLC for one of them. All Ruben has to do is stay healthy and play out the last six games of the season for Palace. So far so good in that respect, as after a 17-minute cameo against Liverpool at the end of March, RLC played the full 90 against Bournemouth last weekend and came through unscathed. The apparently made Southgate a happy man.
In a stretch running from October to December, Loftus-Cheek managed to string together ten consecutive matches in which he played the entire 90 minutes for the Eagles. Another run like that and he’ll have a chance to hear the balalaikas ringing out.
P.S.: Here’s a cool interview with the kid from Soccer AM, including a fun anecdote about training with Drogba as a 14-year-old, praise for JT as most academy kids do, and José’s famous “Academy Day” in the Champions League.