Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been the subject of various interviews of late, following his call-up to England’s World Cup squad and his subsequent starts against Panama and Belgium. Those 180 minutes, and the 10-minute impactful cameo against Tunisia, have shown that he’s not only finally arrived on the big stage but also has what it takes to go right to the top. Right to the very top, to borrow a phrase once famously uttered about another promising midfielder.
Those minutes are the crowning achievement (and still ongoing!) of Loftus-Cheek’s long-awaited breakout season, which, after several disappointing and difficult years of sitting on the fringes of the first-team at Stamford Bridge, needed a season-long loan at Crystal Palace. One could say, that’s precisely the point of Chelsea’s loan system, and it’s worked to perfection. Loftus-Cheek “should” be in contention for a first-team spot at Chelsea next season, but that doesn’t sell as well as sensational headlines, which is what we’ve gotten from Sky Sports (RLC “slams” Chelsea) and so on down the media roster.
Ruben’s actual quotes are not much different than what he himself has said before, and what others had said before him.
“It’s been so difficult to go from playing every game [in the youth team] then get to the seniors and not be given a chance. It’s really difficult mentally, there’s only so long you just enjoy training with top players.”
The pathway from the youth to the seniors is hardly straightforward or easy at Chelsea (and many other teams as well), which is why loans (or B-teams in other countries) can be useful. Add to that the short-term thinking that prevails in modern football, and we find a situation where trust and playing time is hard to give and even harder to earn. Without playing, young players cannot show their quality, and without showing their quality, they cannot play. It’s a vicious cycle that often needs a dangerous leap of faith to break. If they all succeeded like RLC, this would be easy. But they don’t, so it isn’t.
“From a year ago, I’ve improved so much from playing. A game situation is so, so, different. It’s hard to compare the faith of Gareth Southgate and Roy Hodgson and lack of Antonio Conte faith because Chelsea is a big club and managers are under pressure and maybe don’t want to take a chance on a young player. I don’t understand what’s going on behind the scenes fully.”
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: Sky Sports.
It would be a tedious task to list all the players who worked themselves up the youth ranks only to be ultimately snubbed or moved on. However, Chelsea have seemingly made it clear that no such mistakes will be made with Loftus-Cheek. He will not be sold, though recent reports did leave open the possibility of another loan.
But that would be a mistake.
While Ruben has work to do to improve several aspects of his game — he is just 22 after all — he is an undeniably exciting midfield prospect, a potentially fantastic combination of skill and size, and the negative media attention shouldn’t affect the excitement surrounding him both for England and Chelsea as well.
There is an ideal future out there where Ruben helps England win the World Cup and then comes home to stake out his place at Chelsea for the foreseeable future. All we’ve got to do is believe, and take that leap of faith.