According to the Chelsea FC website, Jose Mourinho was unimpressed with Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s performance following the Blues 1-0 victory over Sydney FC in their last match of the campaign. Below I’ve included Mourinho’s entire quote, because I feel it’s of value to the story as a whole.
“Ruben said he had a pain in his back but what I was feeling was that he only had the pain when Sydney had the ball. When Chelsea had the ball he was playing very well, but when Sydney had the ball I think he was more impressed by watching Matic and Mikel work, instead of him working. So, with Ruben, it’s one step back in terms of my relationship with him. If he doesn’t know what it is to play for me and Chelsea it’s one step back. He has to learn that at 19 you have to run three times more than the others, you have to play to your limits and not play like a superstar with the ball at your feet because this is not Under-18s. The Under-18 competition is too easy for him. He’s too good to play in the Under-18s but I don’t accept that when he’s playing in midfield with Mikel and Matic when we don’t have the ball he doesn’t press, doesn’t have intensity and he’s waiting for everybody else to recover the ball. I don’t accept that in the superstars so how can I accept that in a kid? He has to learn what it takes to play for us.”
These are harsh words for a manger that has had nothing but praise so far for the youngster. But this isn’t no ordinary manager, it’s Jose Mourinho, which means either the Portuguese manager has been celebrating too hard (not likely the case), or he is up to something.
Last year, when Chelsea were eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico, Eden Hazard made harsh comments about Chelsea’s system, pointing out that they were built to defend and counter, and not play football. Mourinho had strong words for his star in return.
“It’s normal because he’s not the kind of player ready to sacrifice himself 100 per cent for the team and for his mates. Eden is the kind of player who is not so mentally ready to look back at his left back and live his life for him. Normally you get this kind of comment from players like him…”
Mourinho also dropped Hazard from the team following the Belgian’s late return to training after his holiday. The Portuguese manager is not shy when it comes to expecting discipline from his players. Hazard was no different and the same will hold true for Loftus-Cheek.
That being said, one must look at the difference it’s made in Hazard this season. The Belgian has become more reliable, better at executing his defensive duties, and in some games, he’s become a match winner. Is Jose hoping for the same effect on Loftus-Cheek? I think so. He is allowing the youngster the whole summer to think about the comments and work towards proving to Mourinho that he has what it takes.
This is classic Mourinho mind games. It is absolutely what the Englishman needs to boost his career, a push. The most important part of the comments itself however, are the truth to his words. Loftus-Cheek has looked a bit flat on the defensive end. Furthermore, there is no doubt that defensive center midfield is where the youngster will lineup next season for the Blues. This means his defensive ability needs to be unquestionable. In order to force his way into Mourinho’s plans, he must work hard for it. Which means he needs to increase his defensive contribution.
In several teams, the way to prove your talent is scoring a goal, grabbing an assist, or even just looking deadly on the attack. However, this is a Mourinho coached team, which means the way to break in, is to be a monster on the defensive end. Look how Kurt Zouma has done it. The young Frenchman proved his reliability, and showed his versatility by being able to play wherever Mourinho needed him. The Frenchman is only a year older than Loftus-Cheek and is ahead of the Englishman at defensive midfield, and that’s not even his natural position. But Zouma took his opportunities, and ran with them, and that’s what Loftus-Cheek must do if he want’s to be integrated into the first team.
There is no doubting the young Englishman’s potential, but he certainly isn’t there yet. And although he is earning the chances to be apart of Mourinho’s plans next season, he needs to earn his long-term spot, and he hasn’t done that yet. If anything is for certain, it is that shirking defensive responsibilities won’t get him into Mourinho’s side.
Look for Loftus-Cheek to be unstoppable defensively in the preseason, not allowing any room for criticism. I believe that he has the work ethic to make these changes in his game. If this is a case, it’ll be another example of why Mourinho is widely regarded as the best manager in the world. His mind games are not only entertaining, but they work.
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