My tribe
As featured on NewsNow: Football news

Greater risk? Why Loftus-Cheek must choose Europe over Chelsea dogfight

It's time for Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek to gather his belongings and embark on a continental conquest.

A substitute appearance at Huddersfield on opening day had him calling his travel agent. The Arsenal snub on Sunday booked his ticket. And Maurizio Sarri's explanation for that same omission was the rubber stamp on his passport.

"I prefer to have on the bench two wingers, and only one midfielder," the Italian told reporters. "So it depends on this. Not any other situation.

"I needed on the bench one goalkeeper (Caballero), one full-back (Zappacosta), one centre-back (Christensen), maybe two midfielders and only one winger, but yesterday I preferred vice versa, two wingers (Hazard, Moses) and one midfielder (Kovacic)."

There are justifiable reasons, however, for why Loftus-Cheek has suddenly become an afterthought when only two weeks ago Sarri had lauded his potential.

Thibaut Courtois' forced move to Real Madrid towards the end of the window saw three-time Champions League winner Mateo Kovacic arrive unexpectedly in west London. Talented and established, the Croatian will almost certainly become the preferred third midfield option, alongside guaranteed starters Jorginho and N'Golo Kante, once he becomes accustomed to 'Sarri-ball'.

Then there is Ross Barkley, who has looked revitalised after an uninterrupted pre-season. Add Cesc Fabregas and Danny Drinkwater to the mix, and it becomes abundantly clear that Loftus-Cheek faces an arduous six months to try and jog the Italian's memory.

If last season's momentous loan spell with Crystal Palace proved anything, it is that Loftus-Cheek having to endure a rabid dogfight for playing time at Stamford Bridge, as he had done for three years after breaking into the first-team, is far less beneficial to his development than actually playing football.

Chelsea have always placed Loftus-Cheek on a pedestal over his peers. That's why he never joined the hordes of academy players in the club's seemingly endless loan system. But once they finally allowed him to leave, his immense potential flourished before our very eyes at Selhurst Park.

To call Loftus-Cheek unique would be an understatement. Standing at 6ft 3in, the Londoner possesses a physique you would usually associate with a commandeering centre-back rather than a nifty, elusive attacking midfielder. But that is exactly what he is.

Loftus-Cheek left spectators in awe as he glided past opponents with guile, agility and skill time and time again last season. Palace manager Roy Hodgson, who attempted to bring him back this summer, was so astounded by his ability that he thought it exceeded that of Germany and Chelsea great Michael Ballack.

"I'd say he goes by people more than Ballack did," Hodgson told the Daily Mail in June. But I think he's got Ballack's power and his pace and his strength — he's definitely got that.

"But he's maybe got more strings to his bow than even Ballack had. That's a bold thing to say, I know, but he's so good at going past people. He's got that deceptive turn of pace."

Such was the impression he made for the Eagles, that despite missing three months of action due to injury, Loftus-Cheek was named in England's World Cup squad. He experienced an exciting, albeit brief, spell in Russia and some pundits even compared him to former England star Paul Gascoigne.

Having proven himself capable at the top-level, a loan move to the Championship shouldn't be considered. Loftus-Cheek now needs a place to challenge not only his football but his character. A place where he will play with and against other world class players every week.

How does Schalke sound? Or Marseille? Or Valencia?

Loftus-Cheek only has to enquire in the Chelsea dressing room about the potential benefits of moving abroad. Young defender Andreas Christensen returned from a two-year loan spell at Borussia Monchengladbach last season and quickly secured a regular first-team spot under Antonio Conte.

"For me personally, it was the two biggest years of my career. If it went badly I might not be here now, but because it did I am here, feeling confident and in a good spot," Christensen told Sky Sportslast November.

"The experience of playing in the Champions League and at the top level for two years every week helped me a lot."

Of course, there are risks involved in this move. But after being left out of the squad for Sunday's London derby, the choice is rather simple for Loftus-Cheek. Spend your Thursday night's dominating in the Carabao Cup or potentially waltz around the Veltins Arena against the biggest clubs in Europe.

Andrew Maclean
About the author

Andrew Maclean

Have your say
  • Add your favourite leagues and clubs
  • Build your own personal news stream
  • Easily share your favourite stories
  • Connect with what your friends are saying

Select your favourite
leagues and clubs
to get started.

Already part of MyTribe?