Ruben Loftus-Cheek made his first-team debut as an 18-year-old back in 2014-15, and his potential as the next big thing coming from the Chelsea academy became quickly obvious to everyone. The actual path he’s traveled since however has not been nearly as straightforward, even if he eventually did earn a spot on England’s World Cup 2018 squad after a successful loan at Crystal Palace last season.
There remains an unshakeable feeling that Loftus-Cheek could have and should have done much more already in his career. He’s made just 83 appearances since making his debut four-and-a-half years ago, 58 of which have come in Chelsea Blue (but only 22 starts). And while his appearances have gone up this season — Thursday’s was his 26th of the season, a new career high — 17 of those have been off the bench.
Part of the reason for all that have of course been Chelsea’s troubles in integrating our own best prospects, but another big part in RLC’s case have been his various injuries, including a recurring back problem that has been affecting him since age 17. The latest occurrence of that was in January, when he left the pitch in tears during an FA Cup match against Nottingham Forest.
“I was doing well at that point, playing every game, even if it was 90 minutes in a Europa League and then 30 in the Premier League. I was doing that for a few weeks and I wanted to carry on that momentum.
“When the back problem came again, I tried to push through it and manage it, to keep going. But it was one of those ones where if I’d carried on, I would have done more damage.
“I was distraught going down the tunnel [against Forest]. I knew I just had to wait to get it right.”
Loftus-Cheek has not started a match since, though after a few weeks out, has been making regular substitute appearances once again: 9 in the last 11 games at last count.
It would appear that his case is now being handled as carefully as possible as he tries to find a solution that will work long term.
“I’ve said it’s behind me before because it has felt really good, only for it to come back. But I feel like now I am working with the physios, I think we have nailed it. Fingers crossed because I have had it since I was 17.
“It’s a muscular problem. I have a big curve in my lower back and I’m a big, powerful guy, so I’ve got to keep it strong, keep it loose. It’s been a tough couple of years with it, coming at the wrong time. Hopefully we have a routine to manage it now.”
Part of the new management routine is yoga, which should help not only physically (flexibility, stretching, movement, etc.) but in the mental space as well (part of the practice of yoga is mindfulness or meditation and so on). Being of healthy and focused mind on the pitch is just as essential as being in good physical condition.
“I’ve been doing yoga. I’m not very good at it but I have to start somewhere. The physios know the best things. We have been working over the past year since I have been in the first team. As I’d get a niggle, you’d rule out a problem. It was just about ruling out all the problems to figure it out.”
“As a footballer you want to be free in your mind, you want to feel physically good before you go on the pitch so you can focus on what you want to do.”
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; source: Evening Standard
As we saw yet again on Thursday, Loftus-Cheek is a tremendous talent and if we play our cards right, he could be one to feature in Cheslea’s midfield for a long, long time (with or without a transfer ban, even). The 23-year-old does need a bit more luck, it would appear, but hopefully these back problems are now truly behind him and he can get back to fighting for his place at full capacity.