Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Ruben Loftus-Cheek relishing experience of World Cup challenge

The 22-year-old has two England caps.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek enjoyed the pressure and responsibility of trying to keep Crystal Palace up – and relishes the added load that comes with playing for England at the World Cup.

What Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad bound for Russia lacks in experience it appears to make up for in youthful exuberance.

Loftus-Cheek’s two caps makes him among the rawest members of the group, yet he speaks with a confidence and maturity that belies his 22 years.

The midfielder is excited by the challenge awaiting England this summer, calling the pressure that comes with it something to embrace – just as he did when helping to keep loan club Palace in the Premier League.

“You can enjoy it,” Loftus-Cheek said of the pressure.

“When we were playing at Palace and not doing so well, you don’t have the enjoyment and laughs you would if you were doing well.

“But it is still important to embrace the moment and enjoy it as much as you can because your best football comes when you are enjoying yourself.

“If you are thinking about the pressure and what is on the outside, it is going to affect your game on the pitch.”

Loftus-Cheek calls the World Cup the “pinnacle of football” and cannot wait to strut his stuff on the global stage next month.

“I remember watching 2010 properly,” he said to guffaws in the room. “I guess you guys have seen more World Cups!

“It was so big, the occasion, and the build up to every game was exciting. I was watching at home with my dad and my family watching on TV.

“For England games, everybody used to get their flags out in their homes and the whole street would fill up with flags. You get a feeling of the support.”

Loftus-Cheek is confident of giving those fans something to celebrate this summer thanks to the “frightening” talent at England’s disposal, but he has not got any personal targets in terms of game time.

The 22-year-old overcame an ankle injury that threatened to end his season and loan at Palace, whose manager – and former England boss – Roy Hodgson said Loftus-Cheek was among the best midfield players he had worked with.

It is the kind of promise that people at Chelsea have spoken excitedly about for years, but taking the next step is tough at a club where scores of young talents have failed to make the grade.

“I was at Chelsea for a while and progressed quite quickly until I got to the first team and then it was different,” Loftus-Cheek said.

“I was used to playing every minute of every game but when you get to the first team the step up is massive.

“There are world-class players in front of you and that step up is difficult at a big club like Chelsea, no matter how talented you are.

“Experience plays a big role as well, at the top level. I understand why it is difficult.”

Loftus-Cheek learned a lot being around the squad at struggling Palace and Chelsea when winning the previous season’s Premier League but believes he should have perhaps headed out on loan sooner.

“Being at Chelsea I improved a lot with the training, because I think personally the coaches are the best and the facilities are the best and I improved a lot as a youth player growing up in the academy,” he said.

“But I do think when I got to that 17, 18 stage, I was just thinking about playing for the first team on a Saturday and being in the first team, rather than going out to play somewhere else on loan.

“But looking back now, I do realise the benefits of playing game after game after game after game, so in that sense I wish I had played more games.

“It is difficult when you are not playing to still train your best, still eat right and do all the right things because there is no reward at the end of the week.

“That is the toughest thing mentally when you are not playing, but it definitely pays off in the future.”

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph