A penny for the thoughts of Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
From being picked for England’s 2018 World Cup squad on the back of an outstanding season on loan at Crystal Palace, the 22 year old could already feel aggrieved that former Blues’ manager Antonio Conte purchased Leicester City’s Danny Drinkwater for a frighteningly over-inflated £30 million, in effect placing a further roadblock in the Lewisham-born player’s path to regular first team football. The deal to bring Drinkwater to Stamford Bridge must rank as a serious black mark on Conte’s Stamford Bridge CV, effectively wasting an exorbitant amount of money on a player whose one season in the sun at title-winning Leicester seemingly blinding the Italian, and others at the club, into believing he was a better midfielder than he is.
Loftus-Cheek, who went to a World Cup that was never going to showcase what little Drinkwater has to offer, owes much to the faith placed in him by Palace manager Roy Hodgson, who oversaw a miraculous upturn in the Eagles’ fortunes once the brief but calamitous reign of Dutchman Frank de Boer had come to a close. Perhaps he should have known better but Loftus-Cheek will have dared to assume that a season’s work deemed sufficiently good to put him on the ‘plane to Russia might have been viewed favourably in West London. We will now never know what Conte’s next move would have been, although the proud Italian might have been loath to accept his signing of Drinkwater was an extremely expensive mistake. There will also be those who argue that Loftus-Cheek only went to Russia due to a lack of English alternatives plying their trade in the Premier League, and that Conte had little say in the recruiting of Drinkwater.
The arrival of another traveller within Chelsea’s revolving door, Conte’s compatriot Maurizio Sarri, was soon followed by the latter’s former charge at Napoli, Jorginho. Whether Sarri analyzed Chelsea’s squad prior to recruiting Jorginho is moot, but as is so often the case a manager will attempt to take to his next posting a highly significant player who contributed much to the boss’s success which, in effect, elicited the call from chairman Roman Abramovich or his amanuensis, Marina Granovskaia. It is though incredibly unfortunate for Loftus-Cheek that Jorginho, an Italian speaker, happens to play in his position. Coupled with a change of midfield emphasis that has seen another reckless Conte signing, Ross Barkley, brought in from the cold and erstwhile anchorman N’Golo Kante pushed into a more advanced position, a regular slot, or even a place on the bench, appears to have once more eluded Loftus-Cheek.
Although numerous reports have suggested Drinkwater’s days are numbered at The Bridge, it appears his salary has put off potential suitors such as Germany’s Schalke 04. Drinkwater will be receiving a pay-packet that reflects his bloated transfer fee, although the 28 year old will in the end have to make a stark choice between being excluded from the majority of matchday squads but continue to pick up his inflated pay packet, or going elsewhere on loan if a deal can be reached where Chelsea will subsidize his wages to play for someone else. The list of Chelsea’s expensive mistakes is long, extensive, and embarrassing.
Sarri has made an impressive start to the 2018/19 Premier League campaign, in some way rebutting accusations of inertia during the pre-season transfer window. Although short of a match-winning striker Chelsea’s squad is strong, and can once more rely on Eden Hazard and Willian, two world-class talents who might have left for pastures new had Conte remained at the helm. With both Ethan Ampadu and especially Cesc Fabregas perhaps above Loftus-Cheek in the midfield pecking order strength in depth within Chelsea’s engine room is beyond doubt. Despite a strong season at Selhurst Park and flashes of promise in Russia this summer Loftus-Cheek’s patience will surely finally run out with his parent club, although it is not clear where a good fit would be for his talents at a stage in the season where most top clubs have long-since finalized their rosters.
An obsession with recruiting foreign managers inevitably holds back the flow of young talent into tier 1 sides such as Chelsea. Wary of the bedding in period needed for youth players within the first team coaches usually opt for tried and tested players like Jorginho, often from their previous clubs, who can supposedly slot straight in and hit the ground running. Drinkwater could arguably be included within this description, although his signing was seen by some as more of a token signing of an English-player whose price-tag represented an acceptable, but expensive risk than money wasted. (Such events perfectly encapsulated the landscape during technical director Michael Emenalo’s time at Chelsea). Premier League teams do not have an obligation to supply Gareth Southgate’s England will a conveyor-belt of talent but nevertheless, there is, or at least should be, a moral responsibility to treat the likes of Loftus-Cheek with respect and identify a clear career path for the player, or let him go to seek suitable, alternative employment.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek could once have been part of the future of Chelsea’s midfield, although the signing of Drinkwater more or less ended such an outcome. Furthermore, the acquisition of Jorginho and unexpected faith placed in Ross Barkley, coupled with the undroppable Kante being pushed further forward once more stations Loftus-Cheek in a footballing no man’s land. Rightly an ambitious man, he should finally accept that through no fault of his own, his Chelsea career is over.