Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s impressive 10-minute cameo against Tunisia on Monday set pulses racing across the country, prompting the man himself to admit that he isn’t prepared to sit on Chelsea’s bench next season.
As I write this, the Blues are still to announce the arrival of new boss Maurizio Sarri; a fact which leaves Ruben’s domestic career up in the air, regardless of how well he does with the Three Lions on his chest over in Russia. There’s been an obvious shift in public opinion of him following his game-changing appearance in England’s opening group game but regardless of that, he’ll be looking for assurances from the Chelsea hierarchy as soon as England’s World Cup campaign comes to a close.
After years of hoping for regular first-team football at Stamford Bridge, Loftus-Cheek accepted a loan move across London and didn’t look back. Playing regularly for Roy Hodgson has given Ruben a sense of belief that was no doubt difficult to come by as part of Abramovic’s empire and now, emboldened by the faith the Eagles have shown in him, the England man is looking for guarantees over game time before readily knuckling down in west London.
Whilst higher chances of silverware often act as a defining factor in players’ decision-making, Ruben has experienced life at Chelsea long enough to know that nothing can beat the buzz of playing first-team football week in, week out. Yes, Palace are lower in the food chain than the Blues but after winning a call-up to Southgate’s England squad solely on his displays in our midfield, it’s clear that he can achieve things in SE25 that won’t be possible as a bit-part player at Stamford Bridge.
Given his age and stage of professional development, the next year or so will prove to be absolutely vital for his chances of longevity at the top of the game, particularly when you consider the issues he’s experienced with his back. He may look big and strong but at 22, sitting on the bench from week to week will have a detrimental impact on his body’s chances of adapting to the weekly graft of Premier League football, leaving him with no option but to demand first-team starts in the new Chelsea regime.
If those can’t be guaranteed, he has a club in Crystal Palace who are absolutely desperate to offer that platform; a fact which puts Ruben in a very strong bargaining position ahead of the 2018-19 campaign. A year ago, he was an unproven academy graduate, now he’s a man holding all the cards on the verge of starting for England in a World Cup match.
Sometimes a leap of faith is needed to unlock a player’s full potential. Let’s just hope it’s not the last we’ve seen of him in red and blue.