Ruben Loftus-Cheek admitted that a lack of first-team opportunities at Chelsea has slowed his development after producing a man-of-the-match performance on his senior England debut against Germany.
Gareth Southgate turned to youth with his starting XI for Friday’s goalless draw with the reigning world champions at Wembley, as Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford as well as Chelsea loanees Tammy Abraham and Loftus-Cheek were handed their first international caps.
Loftus-Cheek, spending this season on loan at Crystal Palace, validated his surprise call-up with an assured and eye-catching performance in central midfield, and looks well placed to earn a spot in Southgate’s squad for next summer’s World Cup in Russia if he can avoid injury.
Many in the English game have been tipping the 20-year-old to shine on the international stage since he was in his early teens, but a combination of nagging injuries and just 32 appearances for Chelsea over three seasons has seen him overtaken by the likes of Dele Alli and, more recently, Harry Winks.
Asked after the England match if a lack of games at Chelsea has held him back, Loftus-Cheek replied: “Yeah, definitely. When you don’t play you really feel the difference of what matches give you — the match sharpness, the fitness. It’s what you need to progress. It was hard not playing and having to try to be the best player on the pitch [when I did].
“In these last two or three years I have had to be really patient. It was tough mentally at Chelsea, obviously not getting the game time. I had to be really patient and have the mentality to still train right and do all the right things.
“I believe that if you do all the right things, in time you will get your opportunities. Now I have the opportunity to play in the Premier League every week. That’s what I wanted and I will try to build on that.
“Mentally, [knowing you will play] takes the pressure off. At Palace I feel like a first-team player and I have got the opportunity to play every week. There are no guarantees but I have a better chance of playing, so being at Palace gives me the platform to learn and develop.”
But despite seeing his on-pitch development stall while training with Chelsea’s first team at Cobham, Loftus-Cheek insisted he feels no bitterness towards his parent club and actually thinks he has benefited from the experience.
“No, not at all,” he added. “Chelsea is a massive club and I understand that opportunities don’t come to everyone and don’t come often. For me, I would never want to rewind the time, because I learned a lot about myself mentally and I feel like I got mentally stronger.
“That period of two years was my journey and now I have got the chance to play.”
Asked if he has been in contact with Antonio Conte since the summer, Loftus-Cheek replied: “No. Right now I am focused on Palace. My focus is at Palace for the season. I have a good relationship with Eddie Newton [Chelsea’s loan technical coach] and Eddie is helping me behind the scenes.”
Loftus-Cheek’s impressive performance is particularly exciting for England supporters at a time when Southgate has made improving the technical quality of his midfield a priority, and the 20-year-old said a dream debut at Wembley has inspired him to kick on.
“Nights like this, they just make me want to improve more and get to the next level more, because the feeling you get out on that pitch, in front of 80,000 people, I can’t explain it,” he continued. “It’s fantastic and I just want that feeling more and develop to be the best player I can be.”