Ever since Ruben Loftus-Cheek came off the bench to make his Premier League debut for Chelsea eight days after his 19th birthday, he has been thought of as one of English football’s brightest young midfield talents. Six years on from that short cameo, in a 1-1 home draw with Manchester City, the 25-year-old remains more of a prospect than the finished article.
There have been spells of encouragement in the intervening period. An impressive season on loan at Crystal Palace in 2017/18 compelled Gareth Southgate to include him in the England squad for the World Cup, where Loftus-Cheek started three games in a three-man midfield, and his best season at Chelsea followed under Maurizio Sarri. Injuries remain a recurring theme in his trajectory, however, and he is still yet to play more than 24 Premier League games in any single season. As he turned 25 in January 2021, he had registered a moderate 10 goals and six assists from 90 league appearances.
There are plenty who nevertheless retain belief in his abilities – not least Scott Parker, who took Loftus-Cheek on loan at newly promoted Fulham for the season. “Goals, assists, grabbing games by the scruff of the neck – these are all elements of Ruben’s game that he can do,” says Parker. “There’s only a handful of players you can probably say that about, so it just shows you the capabilities he has.”