Once talked up as one of the jewels of the England and Chelsea youth systems, Ruben Loftus-Cheek has not gone on to have the career that was laid out for him all those years ago. A two-time FA Youth Cup winner and UEFA Youth League champion, there was so much promise for the Englishman which sadly hasn’t translated to the senior stage.
Since being handed his senior Chelsea debut by Jose Mourinho in the Champions League nine years ago, he has failed to to hit the heights and has only ever been used as a squad player. The Blues academy graduate has even had two loan spells with Crystal Palace and Fulham, with many managers at Chelsea either side of those spells not favouring the midfielder.
Having been capped regularly by England from under-13s to under-21s, it seemed that Loftus-Cheek was set to have a prosperous international career at senior level. However, it wasn’t to be, mainly because he has not really been able to get going at club level. He has managed 10 caps for the Three Lions, making the 2018 World Cup squad, where he was able to record an assist in the victory over Panama.
Despite this, Loftus-Cheek has struggled to live up to the hype thrust upon him all those years ago. It’s not entirely his fault. After all, he has been deployed in several different positions over the years, and coupled with his general sporadic role, it has understandably been difficult for him to build any consistency in a blue shirt.
At 27 years of age, Loftus-Cheek has largely had to settle for a place on the bench with the Blues, and starts have been very hard to come by. The most influence he has had in the Chelsea team was during the 2018-19 term. He scored six goals in the league, but played a much bigger role in their Europa League triumph, scoring four and providing three assists in 11 appearances.
It says a lot about how Loftus-Cheek has been regarded in Chelsea’s midfield ranks over the years that the most starts in a single Premier League season for Chelsea came in 2022-23. He was in the starting XI 19 times under Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard in a year in which Chelsea had been at their worst in years, finishing 12th, their lowest Premier League return since 1993-94.
With very little competition for places given how disjointed the players performed alongside one another, it is not really a testament to Loftus-Cheek’s ability in a troubling time in west London. In more successful seasons, he hasn’t been nearly as prolific.
Reports are saying that he is edging towards the Chelsea exit and that AC Milan is likely to be his destination. A move there makes sense given that two of his former teammates are there in Fikayo Tomori and Olivier Giroud.
Serie A as a division has been a safe haven for players in need of a fresh start after leaving the Premier League, and ex-Chelsea stars have been prime among those. It has served Tomori well, having played an instrumental role in AC Milan’s 2021-22 title triumph, while Tammy Abraham has been able to reinvigorate his career since leaving Chelsea as he has been a key figure at Roma. The striker’s Giallorossi teammate, Chris Smalling, has also found a new lease of life in Italy since joining from Manchester United in 2019.
Should Loftus-Cheek get his move to San Siro over the line, there is still a chance for him to establish himself as a first-team star. But what is for sure is that Loftus-Cheek needs a fresh start and a club with whom he can play a prominent role. Over the years he has shown glimpses of his ability, we just never got to see it enough at Chelsea. A change of scenery could see him flourish and build the momentum which he wasn’t able to do in SW6.
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