Just two years ago Ruben Loftus-Cheek was England’s secret weapon at a World Cup… now, in exile at Chelsea, his career is at a crossroads.
The 24-year-old has failed to live up to the hype that earned him a place in Gareth Southgate’s tournament squad for Russia 2018, with a mixture of long-term injuries and poor displays in a Chelsea shirt contributing to his downfall.
And with high-profile signings such as Kai Havertz further limiting his chances in west London, Loftus-Cheek is expected to be moved on, with relegation candidates Aston Villa and West Ham keen to take him in on loan this season.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a full England international at the 2018 World Cup two years ago…
… but matters now look bleak for the 24-year-old as he is set to be exiled by Chelsea
The player was expected to be a big name at Stamford Bridge, especially when club midfield legend Frank Lampard arrived promising that the young stars will get their chance to shine in a first-team shirt.
And while the Blues head coach has fulfilled his promise, Loftus-Cheek has spurned his opportunity and has watched by as younger players such as Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour take his spot in midfield.
While the midfielder has not been clinical enough on the pitch to warrant a spot in Lampard’s side this season, he has faced his fair share of bad luck over the years.
Loftus-Cheek (right) enjoyed a promising 2018-19 season after the World Cup in Russia
The season immediately after the 2018 World Cup saw Loftus-Cheek play a big role in the Chelsea side, scoring 10 goals in all competitions including four that helped the Blues win the 2019 Europa League under Maurizio Sarri.
His form earned him a place in Southgate’s squad for the Nations League Finals, but he then suffered a serious Achilles injury during a post-season friendly in the United States.
The injury kept him out for 13 months – his growing momentum in the senior game for both club and country had been halted.
An unfortunate Achilles injury ruled him out for 13 months and temporarily stopped his career
The Blues still showed their faith in him by offering a new five-year deal in the wake of his injury while the coronavirus pandemic ironically worked in Loftus-Cheek’s favour.
He was given the chance to rebuild that momentum in the season he was supposed to miss and Lampard did his best to get him back up to speed in the first team by starting him in Chelsea’s first game back away at Aston Villa.
However, he was lacklustre in his display and was hauled off after 55 minutes with the Blues losing 1-0.
Seven minutes after Loftus-Cheek was taken off, Chelsea had turned the game on its head and led 2-1. He only started one more league match that term – a dull 1-0 win at home to an already relegated Norwich City in July.
The Covid-19 crisis allowed Loftus-Cheek to return for the season’s end but he has been poor
The new campaign was meant to bring new opportunities and Lampard once again gave him an opportunity to impress by naming him in his first Premier League line-up of the 2020-21 season against Brighton.
But once again Loftus-Cheek failed to make his mark and was taken off at the hour mark. He has not featured since, even missing the 6-0 thrashing of Barnsley in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night.
Observers have noticed that Loftus-Cheek has spurned too many opportunities to shine at Stamford Bridge. Gary Neville even believes that the player’s fate is already sealed and that the west Londoners should cash in.
Loftus-Cheek began Chelsea’s first match of this season – he was lacklustre and was replaced
Loftus-Cheek (L) has been given many chances by Frank Lampard (R) but hasn’t taken them
He told Sky Sports after the Brighton match: ‘Loftus-Cheek, he’s been given his chance. I thought he was really disappointing.
‘I don’t think Loftus-Cheek can complain. He’s been given games. I don’t think he’s ever grasped his chance yet. There’s going to come a point when they’re going to cash in and get £25million for him.’
Yet despite the doom-and-gloom surrounding Loftus-Cheek’s potential at the moment, there is reason to suggest a temporary move away could reignite his stagnating career.
Earlier this summer, Southgate set down a challenge for the midfielder and still believes he has a chance of making next summer’s European Championship despite his various setbacks.
Despite his poor form, Gareth Southgate (right) has challenged Loftus-Cheek to return to form
The England boss said in June: ‘On moments of fate things do turn. I was talking with Ruben Loftus-Cheek a few days ago, he’s been out for a year.
‘No way would he have got back for a tournament like (Euro 2020 this summer).
‘Who knows what the next 12 months might look like for him and other young players who might not have played in the Premier League yet.’
His call-up to the World Cup squad two years ago came off the back of a promising loan spell at Crystal Palace, where he demonstrated his excellent ball carrying skills and was a constant threat in the final third for Roy Hodgson’s side.
There is still interest in him this summer too, with Sky Sports claiming there are as many as eight clubs looking at getting the player’s signature this year.
The 24-year-old needs another positive loan spell like his 2017-18 season at Crystal Palace
Premier League teams therefore know what Loftus-Cheek can do at a lower level than Chelsea’s, and Neville believes the player could benefit from more game-time elsewhere.
The Sky pundit added: ‘When he was at Crystal Palace you thought “what a player”.
‘He’s got to say he wants to play every single week. If you get your chance you have to grab it.’
The next chapter of the Loftus-Cheek story is critical for his future, so he must pick his loan clubs wisely if he wants to be England’s secret weapon once again.