Why Chelsea must let Ruben Loftus-Cheek go for good
A club can mean two different things for footballers. While for some it’s a stomping ground that helps them excel, for others it's a stifling environment. Chelsea has gradually become the latter. Ask Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
We’re beyond the debate of whether Loftus-Cheek is a talented footballer. He’s proven that already away from Chelsea. The big question is, what’s keeping the youngster at Stamford Bridge? The postmortem of another promising talent will soon be written if a selfless act isn’t taken.
The reason the Blues are clinging to Loftus-Cheek isn’t mysterious. Besides being at the club since the age of eight, the London-born midfielder is a 6'3'' giant. He’s also fast, aided by those long legs, and meticulous with the ball at feet.
Last season, the 22-year-old was pivotal to Crystal Palace’s Premier League survival. An ankle injury in December proved inimical to his flawless loan spell, but he returned just in time to earn a call-up to England’s World Cup squad.
Dusk has since fallen on the felicity that came with Loftus-Cheek's time representing the Eagles, as well as his ecstatic run in Russia. Dawn is now upon a new campaign. If the words of Maurizio Sarri are to be believed, Chelsea won’t ship the player on loan this season.
Therein lies the worry. How often will Loftus-Cheek play? The foreboding is scary: he has a mountain to climb. His logbook under Sarri reads 28 minutes at Huddersfield Town, failure to make the squad that beat Arsenal and starting on the bench against Newcastle United.
Sarri says more chances will come for the fringe players in September. Even then, nothing is guaranteed. It's disappointing that Loftus-Cheek, a prospect considered World Cup-worthy not long ago, is now left fighting for a place on the bench.
Loftus-Cheek must depart Chelsea
Loftus-Cheek is no doubt a good footballer. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the aura or charisma to pull weight at Stamford Bridge. Not with the talent available. Sarri relies on training sessions to decide who features in the matchday squad. But it’s clear the Italian gaffer already knows his best XI. There’s room for only one Englishman in Chelsea’s midfield.
Ostensibly, that’s not Loftus-Cheek.
The extended summer break didn’t help Loftus-Cheek. Sarri once said he didn't know the player given they'd only trained together a few times. The former Napoli boss wants midfielders who can play Sarri-ball. Judging on selection until now, he rates Jorginho, N'Golo Kante, Matteo Kovacic, Cesc Fabregas and Ross Barkley as better candidates to perfect his system.
Although Loftus-Cheek has been left fighting for scraps, there are a lot of matches to be played during the campaign. Chelsea need a large squad. Yet, it's demeaning to consider the England international as someone to just make up the numbers. His spell at Crystal Palace proved how much he can offer if presented the chance.
Besides a top-six club, Loftus-Cheek would receive regular playing time at any Premier League team. Crystal Palace would welcome him back with open arms. They would love to resign a player who understands their system and knows the squad. As things stand, the Eagles need all the help they can get for another likely relegation dogfight.
Southampton is also a good choice. Loftus-Cheek would settle quickly on the South Coast. Mark Hughes will embrace a midfielder with top-flight experience, one who has a winning mentality.
Before any of those moves can materialize, though, Chelsea must agree to let Loftus-Cheek spread his wings elsewhere. Sarri wants a deep squad, but it shouldn't come at the expense of an exciting talent.
Chelsea must act selflessly with Loftus-Cheek. It's time to set him free.