tanding alone on a pitch at the heart of Chelsea’s training facility in a not-too-remarkable village in Surrey, Ruben Loftus-Cheek hammers home a barrage of shots into all four corners of the net.
He grabs a fresh ball, takes ten paces back, and does it again without breaking a sweat. He makes it look routine and that’s probably because it is.
This training ground has been home for Loftus-Cheek since he signed for Chelsea when he was just eight-years-old. Since he was a teenager, the 6ft 3in midfielder has been heralded as the player to finally break the glass ceiling that’s been imposed on Chelsea’s home-grown players and – at a glance – two Premier League winners’ medals by the age of 21 would indicate that everything has gone as expected. But those two medals have come in just 22 league appearances across the past three seasons and now – as Loftus-Cheek gets ready for his fourth year in the senior set up at Stamford Bridge – it’s time to for Ruben to move from supporting cast to leading man and write his own chapter in Chelsea’s history.
Off the pitch, Loftus-Cheek represents the new era of athletes who celebrate their culture as well as their in-game accolades. He’s the type of player that’s as comfortable wearing Yeezys as he is the latest adidas boot drop and would be just as excited to talk about why Drake and Giggs – not Dybala and Higuain – are the hottest partnership in the world right now.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s assault on the world stage starts right here.
VERSUS: You’ve been at Chelsea since you were eight. What memories do you have of that period in your life when you went from playing football with your mates to suddenly knowing you’re part of a club like this?
Ruben Loftus-Cheek: I don’t remember much because I was so young but I was very proud of myself – even at that young age – to play for Chelsea and be in the academy. At the start, football was just for fun – I got a buzz out of playing in a little Chelsea kit at the weekends – and it wasn’t until I was about 12 that I thought this could go somewhere. That’s when I put my head down and started working like a pro.
Do you ever remember being nervous? It must be a lot of pressure on a kid to be on the books at a Premier League club.
Nah, always excited but never nervous. I think back to a time when I was playing for the U8s and it was on the day Jose Mourinho arrived at the club for the first time. The academy manager was taking Jose on a tour of the club and he came over to our pitch and our whole team just ran towards him, mad excited. When Jose came here for a second time, I was actually in the first team so it’s crazy to look at that small memory and see how things had progressed in my life from then til now.
Who were the senior players at the club around that time? Who did you bump into?
I remember Hasselbaink, Lampard, Terry, Robben…people like that. And it’s mad to see that John was still here when I broke through, that shows how much of a legend he’s been at this club – he’s seen a few different generations come through these doors and that doesn’t usually happen in football.
Did you have anyone who helped you make the transition from academy to senior football?
John Terry was always really helpful. It’s such a different world playing at a senior level, you’re in the public eye and I don’t think people understand how much that affects the way we go about our day-to-day lives – it’s more than just football at that point. Someone like John has seen everything this game throws at you and he’s always been top drawer in helping me and other lads feel at home here.
Who are the other athletes outside of football that you love to watch?
I’m inspired by so many different athletes, I love people who chase greatness. I’m talking about Usain Bolt, Roger Federer…people who carry themselves with pride on and off their field. No matter what the sport is, I admire people who have taken themselves to the top level.
I’ve also seen you retweet Conor McGregor once or twice…
(Laughs) Yeah, you know that. He’s a funny guy! I follow him on Instagram and he’s obviously got confidence. Floyd Mayweather is the same, they’ve both got the type of personality to succeed in the fight game…
And that’s so different from modern football. Do you ever wish footballers had the same freedom to be as outspoken and honest as boxers or MMA fighters?
I think football has got loads more respect in it. Boxing is all about intimidating your opponent and saying stuff – maybe stuff you wouldn’t usually say – but it works for them in their sport. I don’t think it’s gonna work the same in football if you’re trash talking an opponent and all of that…
“I’ve been with adidas since I was 15, which is mad. I always wore Predators when I was a kid so it’s a good fit for me.”
Your Instagram is also filled with FIFA bits. Is that still a big part of the team’s culture when you’re on the road?
I’m not bragging but I am the best…but I’m on Xbox and not many people here are on Xbox so there’s not quite so much competition. Azpi plays a bit, Zouma does too, Kante is sick. I don’t play as Chelsea too much on FIFA, I like to go as Real or Barca and get that Messi or Ronaldo out (laughs)!
You’re doing more and more work with adidas – you were the face of the Glitch boot quite recently. How are you rating the work they’re doing in football and beyond right now?
I’ve been with adidas since I was 15, which is mad, and I’ve got a great relationship with them now – they always look after me and it’s cool to link up with them and get creative from time to time. I always wore Predators when I was a kid, the ones with the fold over tongue, so it’s a good fit for me.
Do you think you’re the type of character who’d be interested in following the likes of Pogba and Kanye in creating with the brand, should you get to the level where that becomes a realistic goal?
Yeah, definitely. I’m open to anything but right now I’ve got to concentrate football. If I’m playing really well and get higher up in adidas I’d love to look at that.
What’s your style saying?
I’m not too into fashion, nothing outrageous but I like to look good.
You’ve got a decent trainer collection, though?
Yes, love my trainers. I’ve always been into Superstars but I’ve been wearing Yeezys a lot lately, pretty much every day. They’re comfy and they look good. I’ve got about 40 pairs of trainers stacked up at home.
What role does music play in your day-to-day training and match prep?
Listening to music helps with the emotional and motivational side of the game. It puts you in the mood to take on the world so I think that’s why everyone is wearing headphones when they come off the team bus and walk into a stadium, they’re getting ready for battle.
“Listening to music helps with the emotional side of the game. It puts you in the mood to take on the world.”
How do you approach music personally?
I wear my headphones on the coach until I get to the dressing room and then we handover to the stereo. There’s a lot of Drake – I’m onto More Life – are you on that? I love the two Giggs tracks and ‘Passionfruit’ is a vibe. I’m not too focused on listening to really upbeat music before a game, I just want something I can enjoy.
Did you go to Drake’s London shows earlier this year?
Yeah, I went to one of the O2 gigs and it was mad. The best moment was when Giggs came out and dropped ‘Whippin Excursion’, the crowd just erupted and was cool to see the UK get that much shine on a Drake show.
I didn’t meet Drake backstage but John Terry did and the funny thing is, Drake put the photo of those two up on his Instagram…but he didn’t tag John, so JT wasn’t happy (laughs). I think JT was the only Premier League player to make it on Drizzy’s Instagram, so that’s a result.
How often do you get to go to live shows?
Not as much as I’d like. Getting the right time can be so difficult. We’re either in training for a game or travelling back from a game, so late nights in London can’t happen too often. I’d love to do more but football comes first.
Were you in the squad when Drake trained out on the pitch after a Champions League game a few years back?
Nah but I remember that! I was the academy still but Jamal Blackman – who used to be a goalkeeper here – was there and he met him and stuff. I remember another time that Justin Bieber was here, too…he’s meant to be a baller, still!
Ruben Loftus-Cheek wears adidas X 16. For more information visit adidas football.