A sight rarer than Lionel Messi goal-drought, a London-born academy graduate is coming through the ranks at Cobham (Chelseaa s training ground and academy). Ruben Loftus-Cheek, if pundits are to be believed, can not only be an effective backup for Nemanja Matic at Chelsea, but can also solve Englanda s long-running midfield dilemma.
Born in Lewisham, a small borough in central London only 11 miles away from Stamford Bridge, Loftus-Cheek joined Chelsea as an 8-year-old boy. He progressed through all the age groups at Chelsea and soon became a regular in the England youth setup as well. The last player to progress from an academy graduate to a first team regular, quite famously, was John Terry more than 15 years ago.
Having represented England at the under-16, 17 and 19 level, Loftus-Cheek would now look to cement his place in the under-21 team a often looked at as a stepping stone to the senior side. His only Chelsea senior appearance to date has come in the Champions League coming on as a substitute against Sporting Lisbon. Of whatever little they saw of him that day, and in general following his youth career, the supporters say he looks destined for greater things.
In a recent interview, Jose Mourinho himself heaped praise on the youngster, saying that he should be a held responsiblea if Loftus-Cheek does not make the grade at Stamford Bridge and at the international level. This was followed up by another more recent quote, in which the Portuguese mentioned that Loftus-Cheek a will be a player next season, not just a numbera . Coming from a manager who has seen and managed the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo, it is a huge morale-booster for the youngster.
In recent times, Chelsea have been linked with the highly-rated Paul Pogba as a potential summer signing. Without a doubt, he is currently the best box-to-box midfielder in Europe, if not the world. Pogba would fit into any side in the world, and so he would at Chelsea. The question remains, however, if those 100 million Euros were put to better use elsewhere, a quality centre-back or a number 10 – maybe even both.
This is where Loftus-Cheek comes in, a potential a successora to the Frenchman. Of similar build and height, Loftus-Cheek is a physically dominating presence in midfield. He looks like a straight-fit into the current Chelsea double-pivot alongside Matic . That would also mean more attacking and less defensive responsibility for Cesc Fabregas, who has struggled to maintain his form since December. Perhaps, Loftus-Cheeka s presence would ease that next season.
Apart from his imposing body structure, helping him shield the defence, his touch, passing range and ability to penetrate the first line of defence of the opponents really stands out. For those many non-Chelsea fans that havena t heard of him or seen him play, he could very well turn out to be the next Michael Carrick a with more defensive and physical ability but a similar distribution range.
Speaking of Carrick, the one thing (among other things) that the English national team has been lacking is exactly that type of player. Grossly underused, Carrick would have been a sure starter in any other national side. England always look at star players in attack and this a uglya side is often ignored. With the Manchester United man now in the later stages of his career, one can only hope that Loftus-Cheek is looked at more dearly and played more often.
If there is anything that separates Loftus-Cheek from the aforementioned Pogba, it is his lack of finishing ability. Along with being a tireless runner and a natural in the midfield, the Frenchman has his long-range shooting to boot; an area which would have been earmarked by the Academy for Loftus-Cheek and his overall development.
The problems that Loftus-Cheek may face, unfortunately, come from within. A club which has more than 50 potential first-team players on its books, new players coming through tend to get lost in the crowd. A loan move here, a loan move there and they eventually fade to oblivion. A story that has been repeated too often in Chelseaa s case. Off the top of onea s head, Josh McEachran is a classic, but sad, example. A series of loan moves to Wigan, Middlesbrough and the likes mean his Chelsea career is all but over. Although still only 22, McEachran might strike it big in the game, but it looks like it will be away from Stamford Bridge.
More than replacing Matic in the long term, Loftus-Cheek should look to complement him in that area of the midfield. While the Serb usually shies away from making attacking runs, the young Englishman should look to improve that area of his game. With Mourinho seemingly happy with the double pivot system and looking to develop that in the next season, Loftus-Cheek would be a perfect addition to the team from the midfield point of view.
Whether or not he does live up to the hype or even if he gets a chance to play regularly at Chelsea is a matter only time can settle. However, the people who have seen him play and his peers consider the youngster right up there with the likes of Paul Pogba a at least potential wise. It is now up to him and his club to convert that potential into a world class footballing talent.