On May 14th, 2019, things seemed to be going rather well for Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
The tall, imposing central midfielder with the presence of Michael Ballack and the poise of Frank Lampard had finally broken into the Chelsea first team under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea.
He scored 10 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions, scored the first goal in the 3-0 win against Watford which secured Champions League football, and scored in the Europa League semi-final second leg vs Eintracht Frankfurt to send them to Baku.
On May 14, 2019, things looked to be going well for Chelsea and England’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek
But the very next day, he suffered an Achilles injury at a post-season charity fixture in America
Loftus-Cheek had seemingly confirmed his spot as a bona fide regular, would likely have played in that final, and was named in England’s Nations League finals squad, a year after playing himself into the 2018 World Cup squad on loan at Crystal Palace.
The future was bright, the future was blue. How things change.
The next day, ‘I Don’t Care’ by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber was top of the UK charts, which probably sums up how most Chelsea fans felt about the post-season charity game against MLS side New England Revolution.
As if after a gruelling Premier League season what players need is more travelling and more matches. Don’t get me wrong: from a charitable perspective, the match was for an entirely worthy cause and raised around £3.1million to fight discrimination. But from a sporting perspective, it was essentially meaningless.
While Sarri praised the sentiment, he said pre-game: ‘I am a little bit worried because I know very well that the team now needs rest. So it is not the best way to prepare the final. They will need time off after Boston, three or four days of complete rest.’
Sadly, his fears proved well-founded, and Loftus-Cheek ruptured his Achilles barely 20 minutes after coming on at half-time.
He walked in, and left on crutches in a protective boot. That summer he signed a new five-year deal at the club, but the damage was done. He only played nine times the following campaign.
Loftus-Cheek has admitted he ‘lost a lot of muscle and power’ after the injury and did not feel himself – meaning he went out on loan to Fulham last season to get much-needed game time
Although technically recovered from the injury, he was not the player he once was. He told Chelsea’s YouTube channel: ‘I came back from injury, didn’t feel myself, didn’t feel powerful. I wasn’t running past people, I lost a lot of muscle and power. I felt like I needed to get away and play as much football as possible, and I got that.’
Last season’s loan at Fulham, with 32 games played, provided him with much-needed game time and he has returned to the Cobham training ground physically and mentally refreshed.
He added: (This summer) was relaxed. I had a little bit longer than usual, so I feel fit now, mentally fresh and ready to go.’
But the club now have one of the best midfielder in the world in N’Golo Kante, potential Ballon d’Or contender Jorginho, the underrated Mateo Kovacic, plus Ross Barkley and Tiemoue Bakayoko returning from loan spells.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel (left) has said he will give the 25-year-old central midfielder Loftus-Cheek, now returned to the Blues, a fair chance to prove himself on the pitch in training
That chance could be all he needs to resurrect his career and finally set Stamford Bridge alight
That crowd, along with promising youngsters Conor Gallagher and Tino Anjorin, are competing for two midfield slots in Thomas Tuchel’s double pivot. Probably four, at a push five, will make his 25-man Premier League squad.
Around 0.1 per cent of Fantasy Premier League managers have selected him in their team for the upcoming season. For comparison, 20-year-old Colombian centre back Yerson Mosquera, Watford’s reserve left back Adam Masina and Arsenal’s third choice left back Sead Kolasinac have been selected by more people.
There are, however, positive signs. At 25, he still has plenty of time to improve and grow as a player, he could be getting back to his extraordinary levels of physicality and Tuchel – his sixth manager at Stamford Bridge – has publicly talked up his ability.
The German said: ‘I was quite a fan of him when he was younger. He is still young… but when he came up from the academy, a little bit in his style of play and his movements he reminded us a bit of Michael Ballack.
‘We were well aware of him and his talent. It would absolutely be unfair, not fair, if I judged him from TV and hearsay. Normally I love to work with players and give my opinion from a direct impression.’
Pictures also show the former Paris Saint-Germain boss talking to Loftus-Cheek in training pictures, laughing and joking with his arm round his shoulder as well as encouraging, cajoling and instructing.
Seemingly, then, Loftus-Cheek will have the chance to prove himself on the pitch along with everyone else. Maybe next week Aston Villa will swoop in, bid £15m and the rangy midfielder will be gone.
But maybe, that opportunity could be all he needs to finally set a little corner of West London alight, like his performances three years ago promised he would.