Our homegrown midfielder discusses being back at Cobham, coping with lockdown and his targets for the future...
Loftus-Cheek has been among the Chelsea players back at Cobham this week training in small, socially-distanced groups and he believes the new measures put in place will protect the health and safety of those back at work in these early stages of the Premier League’s Return to Training Protocol.
The players returned on Tuesday afternoon, with the resumption of training meaning a reunion with team-mates and an opportunity to get back out onto the grass pitches for the first time since early March.
‘I’m really excited to be back and just to see a few of the boys - at a safe distance obviously - but just to have that social contact with some of the boys that you’re used to seeing every day and you haven’t seen for two months,’ Loftus-Cheek tells the official Chelsea website.
‘It’s good to see and talk to them at a safe distance, and then start the work for what could be restarting the season. This is the first stage of it and it needs to be safe but I feel like the routine they’ve shown us is safe so for us it’s good to go at the moment.’
The issue of returning to training safely has been widely discussed in recent weeks but Loftus-Cheek feels that every precaution is being taken and he is pleased the players have been consulted by the authorities, the club and coaching staff throughout the decision-making process.
‘We’ve been involved in the conversations and our opinions have been noted,’ he reveals. ‘What they’ve proposed to us with this first phase, everyone feels it’s safe to do and I think it’s very important to take it step by step with these things because of what’s going on in the world.
‘You have to do things properly but we feel like this phase one has been done properly so everyone is looking forward to get going.’
Like the rest of the nation, the England international midfielder has been grappling with the difficulties of lockdown.
‘I’ve been the same as everyone, it’s been difficult,’ the 24-year-old admits. ‘I’m living at home with my family so that makes it easier rather than being by yourself and I’ve just been trying to do as many different things as possible to stop the boredom. Luckily, we’ve had a few days of good weather so I’ve been outside as much as I can in my garden, watching loads of movies and trying to keep fit.
‘I was back training before lockdown but only just so I’ve been doing a lot of what the other boys have been doing, general fitness stuff, but I’ve also had some individual responsibilities to keep my Achilles in check, just to stop any further injuries. It’s been calf workouts and stuff like that, just keeping my body strong for whenever we go back.’
Physical wellbeing has not been the only consideration during this crisis and footballers are no different to the rest of society, experiencing the same feelings of social isolation and a lack of regular routine.
Mental Health Awareness Week has provided the opportunity for people to discuss these emotions more than they might do normally and for Loftus-Cheek, who has been a regular at Cobham for the past 16 years, the unusual experience of being away from the football environment for such a prolonged period has been challenging.
‘It’s been very unusual to not be playing football every day,’ he explains. ‘Even as a kid, you’re playing four or five times a week and then obviously as a professional, it’s more or less every day so to then just completely stop and have nothing, it changes up the routine and you don’t really know what to do with yourself.
‘It’s been an adaptable period where you have to try and find a new routine. At the start, I’ll admit my body clock was all over the place because I didn’t have a schedule. I didn’t feel right so I started getting up earlier and created a routine to keep me going.’
In football terms, there was also the added frustration of the timing of the UK lockdown, which came just as Loftus-Cheek neared a return to full fitness after so long on the sidelines. In fact, last week marked a year since he suffered the Achilles injury in Boston that would curtail his promising 2018/19 season and greatly affect the current campaign.
‘It was frustrating for sure,’ he says. ‘I’ve put a lot of hard work into getting fit and had just finished what was kind of like my pre-season. I was training with the group and then doing my own stuff afterwards with the fitness coaches, which was really hard trying to get fit to play as quickly as possible.
‘I’d been doing that for weeks and weeks and started to feel like I was very close but then lockdown came. It was frustrating but that’s life - I’ve just had to carry on keeping fit by myself.’
The Londoner has hardly been able to catch a break over the past 12 months, however the postponement of the Euro 2020 finals to next summer has at least provided a new target for his international aspirations. His extended time out injured had threatened his place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad but he hopes now the additional time will provide a chance for him to prove himself.
‘At the start of the season, I was still injured and at the start of my rehab but I didn’t know it would go on for so long,’ he adds. ‘I thought it would be quicker so I had in my head if I can get back around midway through the season then I can hopefully build up my fitness and be sharp to be in contention for the Euros.
‘Obviously it didn’t happen like that and it took me a long while to feel good in my body after my injury and have the confidence. Having the tournament next summer now is a good opportunity for me to stay injury-free, stay healthy and try to play my best football for when the time comes.’
While Loftus-Cheek’s brief has primarily been a watching one this season, he claims he has been impressed by what he’s seen on the pitch under Frank Lampard and credits the younger players in the squad for taking their chances. For so long the poster boy of the Chelsea Academy, he now has fellow graduates to share the stage with as a new era takes shape at Stamford Bridge.
‘The young boys have done really well so credit to them,’ he says. ‘They’ve shown that they can play at this level and help the team win. The gaffer always said he would play Academy players but they have to be doing well to play. That’s really encouraging for the youngsters coming through the Academy in the future that they have a gaffer who’s willing to play them if they show they can play at the level.
‘The whole squad have done really well this season, especially having no new players coming in and the team being very young. Considering those things and a new manager with new tactics and a new way of playing, we’ve done really well to be where we are at the moment.
‘We’ve had times on the pitch where we know ourselves that we need to improve but that’s just football and if we can improve on what we’ve talked about as a collective then we could really be a team that’s in contention for titles in the future.’