“I had the option of coming to Palace and I thought that it would be great for me,” Ruben Loftus-Cheek told the official Crystal Palace site upon completion of his loan move from Chelsea. “I live not too far away, I was born in Lewisham and Palace is good club so I thought it’s a good chance to play here and be a part of the team. They have a very strong team and I’d like to be a part of that this season.”
At 21, the midfielder has finally been presented with an opportunity to add some substance to the excitement that has been building around his name. The midfielder has tasted success at youth level, winning two FA Youth Cups, the Under-21 Premier League and the UEFA Youth League, while starring for England up to Under-21 level.
It was at the 2016 Toulon Tournament where Loftus-Cheek excelled, so much so he secured the Player of the Tournament prize and was said to be on the shortlist for several Premier League clubs ahead of the 2016-17 campaign. Following a handful of league appearances in the previous campaign, though, incoming Blues boss Antonio Conte refused to let him leave.
“Ruben stays here [rather than go out on loan]," Conte previously said. "He's a young player with great potential. I'm impressed with what I’ve seen and he stays here.”
Now, though, it’s time to step up. Frank de Boer’s first Palace signing, Loftus-Cheek arrives as the club’s new No.8 and will go some way to implementing the Dutchman’s ideas at Selhurst Park.
Loftus-Cheek’s ability to carry the ball into space allows him to thrive in deep positions, though the England U-21 attack has been built around him as a number 10. The 21-year-old has proved a creative outlet between the lines, while technically sound, and could prove to be the staple in De Boer’s possession-based build up play.
Should De Boer look to execute a 4-3-3 formation, with Luka Milivojevic in the holding spot, and another, possibly Yohan Cabaye, in a central, roaming role, Loftus-Cheek may prove the perfect box-to-box addition to complement the balance.
The youngster presents something different to Palace: a powerful, athletic outlet who’s able to command the ball and control possession from central areas.
The only way Loftus-Cheek will fulfil his potential, however, is with prolonged playing time at the highest level. At Palace, he now has the stage to develop into the player he promises to be, and the only negative to his arrival, for the south London side, is that the move isn’t a permanent one.
It’s no slight on Loftus-Cheek to suggest he will never be granted the game time he needs at Chelsea – the Premier League champions possess a host of world-class central midfielders in their ranks. He doesn’t have a place at Stamford Bridge, and, to be frank, he is wasting his time remaining at the club.
“The first thing to say is that, when there are young players, you must understand where is the team where they are? Chelsea are a top team and to play at Chelsea is not easy,” Conte said last season, referring to Loftus-Cheek’s inability to establish himself in the Italian’s side.
"I remember, also, when I was manager of Juventus it was the same. We had young players, very good players, but to get into the first-team often, you need to have a step and then come back.
"It's very difficult to play in the academy and then the first-team. We are talking about a top team at the top level, so it's not often this happens, that a player is so strong he can play.”
Chelsea especially are not a club associated with youth team hopefuls transitioning into first-team regulars. Nathan Ake has joined Bournemouth this summer, having spent time on loan on the south coast last season, while Lewis Baker – arguably a brighter prospect than Loftus-Cheek – looks set to drop into the Championship following two impressive years in the Netherlands with Vitesse.
Tammy Abraham has joined Swansea City for the upcoming Premier League campaign, with Ola Aina joining second-division Hull City. Baba Rahman and Izzy Brown both excelled on temporary deals away from Chelsea, while Kasey Palmer has joined newly-promoted Huddersfield following a successful season with David Wagner’s side last term.
It’s no secret that to secure regular playing time as an upcoming player at Stamford Bridge, you must first prove yourself on loan elsewhere.
Loftus-Cheek has not had the opportunity to do so yet, despite pushing for a move previously, but now has the platform to show what he can do. Not only will he learn a lot about himself and his ability during his time at Selhurst Park, but we too are likely to gain an understanding if he can genuinely challenge as a Chelsea and England first-team regular in years to come.