Ruben Loftus-Cheek has spoken about the difficulties faced by young players breaking into the Chelsea team, as he prepares to play in the World Cup for England.
Loftus-Cheek spent the season on loan at Crystal Palace, after failing to make much of an impression on the senior side at Stamford Bridge, despite excelling at youth level. He was part of the Chelsea teams that won the FA Youth Cup in 2014 (a tournament they have won five years in a row), and also the first of their UEFA Youth League-winning sides.
However, with the possible exception of Andreas Christensen, none of the players involved in any of those victories has gone on to establish themselves in the first team.
Most have been forced to leave on loan, with the likes of Tammy Abraham, Kasey Palmer and Izzy Brown, as well as Loftus-Cheek himself, seeking temporary moves to get regular football. Nathaniel Chalobah and Dominic Solanke left the club altogether on their paths to senior football blocked.
“I was at Chelsea for a while and progressed quite quickly until I got to the first team, and then it was different,” said Loftus-Cheek. “I was used to playing every minute of every game, but when you get to the first team the step up is massive.
“There are world-class players in front of you and that step up is difficult at a big club like Chelsea, no matter how talented you are. Experience plays a big role as well, at the top level. I understand why it is difficult.”
Despite his season being disrupted by injury, Loftus-Cheek was excellent for Palace, and when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was ruled out of England’s World Cup with a knee injury, he was the natural choice to come in.
“I took something from both of them,” he said, when asked if it was better to work with elite coaching and facilities at Chelsea or to play regularly for Palace.
“For me to be around a squad of winners is good for me to be a part of, so I can analyse and see the dynamics of the squad and the team. Then to be at Palace, who struggled at the start of the season, and see the dynamics of the team and how they act when they are not doing so well — it is good for me to see both so in the future I know what it is like.
“Being at Chelsea I improved a lot with the training, because I think personally the coaches are the best and the facilities are the best and I improved a lot as a youth player growing up in the academy.”
Loftus-Cheek will travel to Russia on the fringes of the England side, but he remains confident that the team can go far in the tournament.
“I think it would be stupid to rule us out,” he said. “We have a really good squad, it’s young and youthful, but we are all here on merit. In training you look around and the talent is frightening. We definitely have a good chance.”
Nick Miller is a writer for ESPN FC, covering Premier League and European football. Follow him on Twitter @NickMiller79.