Bright future in store for U19s starlet Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Friday 18 Jul 2014
Loftus-Cheek led Chelsea to FA Youth Cup glory in May
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In years past, the path from Chelsea's academy to the first team has been one trodden by few.

But a group of youngsters led by England U19s starlet Ruben Loftus-Cheek is about to emerge.

Of the current Blues squad, only John Terry is a product of the academy – while 26 players aged 25 or younger spent 2013-14 out on loan.

However, a new batch of youngsters coming through at Cobham - and 18-year-old Loftus-Cheek is one name causing quite a stir.

After impressing on the youth circuit for several seasons, and captaining Chelsea to FA Youth Cup glory in May, many in the know are tipping Loftus-Cheek to be a key part of the group that could finally break the mould.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

Ruben Loftus-Cheek is likely to be a key player for England U19s in 2014-15

It should be noted that since 2010 the Blues have reached The FA Youth Cup Final in four of the past five seasons, winning it three times. 

Fellow Young Lion Lewis Baker, eight months Loftus-Cheek’s senior and another tipped for a bright future, made an appearance as an 87th-minute substitute in The FA Cup tie against Derby County in January 2014.

But Josh McEachran – a member of the 2010 FA Youth Cup winning team and England U17s Euro Champions in the same year – has struggled to make his mark since making 11 appearances under Carlo Ancelotti and has not featured since.  

Other past finalists such as Jeffrey Bruma and Lucas Piazon have had brief spells in the first-team squad, but none have been able to cement a permanent position despite the club being under the stewardship of five different managers since their run of Youth Cup success began.

However, there is a growing feeling that Chelsea’s latest crop of youngsters may soon be the ones to buck the trend – led by the likes of Loftus-Cheek and Baker.

At 6ft 4in tall, Loftus-Cheek is hard to miss. A towering, physically imposing box-to-box midfielder, he has the rare combination of power and elegance in possession and the ability to pick a pass or put in a tackle. A genuine all-rounder.

Chelsea team prepare to take on Fulham at Craven Cottage in The FA Youth Cup first leg

Loftus-Cheek was the captain of Chelsea's 2014 FA Youth Cup winning team

The teenager reportedly turned the heads of both Manchester clubs - as well as European giants Barcelona. 

However, London-born Loftus-Cheek opted to commit his future to the club which he has been with since the age of eight and signed professional forms two years ago.

He has since signed a one-year extension to that and with his future now secure, the next step must be to break through to Jose Mourinho’s first-team squad.

And despite his tender age, it would not be absurd to suggest that breakthrough may come sooner rather than later. 

A regular in the U21 setup at Chelsea – as well as captain of the U19 side – Loftus-Cheek has played and impressed above his age group for several years, ever since appearing for the U18s three years ahead of schedule.

He has also been a regular within the England development squads since making his international debut for the U16s in 2011. Since then he has gone on to earn a further 13 caps at U17 and U19 levels.

He posted this picture on his Instagram page as he signed his contract extension

Off the field Loftus-Cheek is quiet, yet composed. A sensible head on young shoulders, he is well aware he has achieved nothing yet and must remain focused if he is to realise his potential.

"You have to have goals," he said in an interview with TheFA.com during the recent U19s UEFA Elite Qualifying Round at St. George’s Park.

"You also have to focus on the games in hand first. 

"If you look too far down the line, you can take your eye off the ball and run the risk of becoming complacent. I am still young and know I have a lot to learn."

So what now for the prodigy from south London?

He, like so many before him, must focus on making the step from promising youngster to first team regular.

So whether he – and Chelsea – decide the time is right for him experience first-team football elsewhere for a season, or remain at the club to continue his development at U21 level, it is well worth remembering the name Ruben Loftus-Cheek. 

Indeed, it may not be that easy to forget.

By Jamie Reid Senior Writer