They say you should never use the words “interesting” or “very” in your writing, for they are lazy words that don’t actually say anything meaningful about your subject matter. I know, that’s very interesting. But it’s also a hackneyed way to get this post started, which will be about Ruben Loftus-Cheek. And I can’t quite come up with a better word to describe his season than “interesting”. Perhaps very interesting.
Expected? Not really. Unexpected? No, not really. Surprising? Well, not really. Unsurprising? I wouldn’t say that. Successful? In a way. Unsuccessful? Probably not. Good? Sure. Bad? Nah. It’s definitely been a season, that much we can confidently declare.
It’s hard to categorize Loftus-Cheek’s role in the team, despite his steady involvement. He seemed to be little more than an afterthought in preseason, especially after we made a big deal of bringing in a fourth midfielder behind N’Golo Kanté, Jorginho, and Mateo Kovačić. The door wasn’t shut as he had stayed, which certainly turned out to be fortuitous as that fourth midfielder, Saúl has been underwhelming for the most part, while the other three have dealt with a fair few injuries and illnesses.
But similarly, it’s still hard to even categorize Loftus-Cheek as a player, despite all these years in and around the team. He’s played practically every position bar goalkeeper at some point or another. Just this season, he’s been an attacking midfielder, a central midfielder in a pivot, a deep-lying regista, a ball-playing center back, and most recently, a de facto right wing-back (though more of a hybrid midfielder). The ultimate utility player I guess.
However, that does seem rather underwhelming after all these years of hype and expectation. Then again, perhaps we need to start thinking about Ruben a bit differently, just as he needs to start thinking about himself differently. At least that’s where Thomas Tuchel wants him to start. He must unlearn what he has learned, says the master.
“He is at a certain age now, and he’s never had his breakthrough, everybody is still waiting, still waiting for the next step and the next step. So for him, it’s crucial, crucial, crucial to focus on the very day he is in. It can be a huge distraction to think a week ahead, two weeks ahead, or a month ahead about what can be. There could have been so much more, and it does not make sense to worry because he is where he is.
“[He] has everything that it takes — he wouldn’t play, or we wouldn’t count on him otherwise — but he has heard this for many years [...] everybody was telling him how good the potential is and how big a future there can be. But the future is only there if you live up to it in the present.”
And of course that present is still influenced to some degree by what happened now nearly three years ago, suffering the devastating torn Achilles in the charity game against New England Revolution. And it’s not just a factor physically, but mentally as well, and perhaps much more so. Just another challenge to meet, rise to, and push through.
“He needs to trust himself. [He] needs to get confidence in his body physically and his ability [...] not once or twice, but three, four, ten, twenty times.
“The next step is to do it for the third time in a row because he was excellent against Southampton [and Real Madrid]. So it’s little steps, and while it may even sound like it is too little given the potential and what’s all in there, and even given the performances he can produce, but it’s actually not. It’s the only way to grow in confidence and become the player, finally, that he can be. But it’s in him.”
“[And] I don’t think he is fully aware of what he can produce, what he can physically give. I think he is still in the situation where he accepts limits too early, and he is used to that. This is where we are with him, but we will keep on pushing.”
Some of this will sound familiar to things that have been said about Loftus-Cheek over the years. Some of it I’m sure he himself has heard many times as well.
And at age 26, it’s still not too late!