Reuben Loftus-Cheek needn’t fret too much if Jose Mourinho continues to ignore his first team credentials. If he’s as good as everyone seems to think he is, he’ll make it to the top regardless.
This week I’ve heard a lot of people lamenting The Grumpy One’s lack of faith in young players. It’s an easy thing to do. We know he’ll happily stockpile gifted kids, but his record at actually giving the best ones a chance is abysmal.
Letting them prove their worth over a sufficient period of time isn’t something he seems prepared to do. So timing-wise, the teenagers emerging from Chelsea’s academy are unlucky that Mourinho’s in charge of their destiny.
In defence of the Blues boss, it’s also presumptuous of those of us on the outside looking in, to say that the club’s top youth products will definitely improve his team. For skill and talent alone are never ever enough.
Over the years I’ve seen dozens of gifted kids score mesmeric individual goals like the one Loftus-Cheek wowed fans with last week for Chelsea’s under-21s.
He made playing at that standard look easy and is clearly an outstanding prospect, but does that mean he has the full package required to make a difference for club and country at senior level?
There’s so much more to it than that; as those who tipped Ravel Morrison to be a superstar a few seasons ago might testify.
To me mental toughness and inner drive are ingredients that are every bit as important as skill. Where young players are concerned, so many questions need answering…
Is a wonder kid prepared to try the same things against wily old pros as they do in Under 21 football?
How does they react to adversity? Can they take criticism, not just from inside the dressing room but from the fans and media too? What impact do defeats have on them, and what happens when the pressure builds? If an opponent makes them look second best, how do they handle it? Can they motivate themselves to produce back-to-back-to-back performances of note, at a time when they’re financially secure? If they’re in a side that’s struggling, does the head drop or will they try and inspire a turnaround?
Footballers that stick around at the top level handle those challenges I’ve listed far better than others. Impressing in the short term when everything’s fresh, and life is hunky dory, doesn’t guarantee prolonged excellence.
It’s pretty straightforward. Until Loftus-Cheek experiences first team football and the different challenges it brings, no one will know if his all-round package is good enough. He won’t. We won’t. Chelsea won’t.
If the Blues won’t give him that opportunity, the sooner he goes out on loan the better - whether it’s in the Premier League or the Championship.
Liverpool’s Jordon Ibe went to Birmingham City and Derby County and impressed so much that Brendan Rodgers could no longer ignore his credentials. The Chelsea man is in a similar boat.
I didn’t go on loan until after I made my Arsenal debut, and although I played as well as I could for the Gunners, I’d have been better equipped had I tasted ‘proper football’ beforehand.
Just look at the make-up of the current England squad. According to my calculations 20 of the players played outside of the Premier League earlier in their careers. I’ve also added up 39 loan moves between them.
Gaining experience lower down the food chain is a preparation that works.
The sterile Under 21 League provides an unrealistic gauge. The true mettle of player can only be revealed in the rough, tough world of competitive first team football.
If Loftus-Cheek is indeed the real deal, he’ll prove it outside of Stamford Bridge.
It’s high time they freed him up, and let the midfielder show his worth.
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