They’re lining up to take a pop. Ian Wright, Ray Wilkins, even Gareth Southgate. The lad from Paris’ 14th arrondissement. Who has offered nothing since his arrival from Monaco but energy, positivity and good vibes. Bakayoko is just about English football’s public enemy No1. Why? Because after just one game at Wembley. A friendly. And against a German reserve team. Ruben Loftus-Cheek actually shone.
Now, this column has argued for more chances to be granted Chelsea‘s academy players. We’ve questioned the loan system. The attitude of managers. Even the value of the entire academy set up at Cobham. But making Bakayoko a scapegoat for the lack of progress of young English players is bang out of order. There’s just no comparison. The idea that Loftus-Cheek, right here right now, is the better option for Chelsea defies reality.
At Crystal Palace, Loftus-Cheek has impressed – without being outstanding. It could be argued Friday at Wembley was his best performance of the season. Again, a friendly against an experimental German XI. But in the big games. Against the elite. Loftus-Cheek has found himself swept away – though at Palace he hasn’t been short of company.
In contrast, Bakayoko has produced in crunch tests. For the United victory at Stamford Bridge, he was celebrated. Blues fans happily pointing out how Bakayoko outshone the defector, Nemanja Matic on the night.
And that gets to the heart of this non debate. Those championing Loftus-Cheek – while at the same time denigrating Bakayoko – are doing so on a promise. There’s nothing from Loftus-Cheek’s form this season that – if given the chance – would warrant Antonio Conte, the Blues manager, to select him ahead of Bakayoko. Those arguing the England cap’s case are doing so on potential. Of what he could be. Not in the reality that Conte must navigate.
Bakayoko has already produced in the biggest games for Chelsea – and he’s still in the process of settling in. Loftus-Cheek, meanwhile, has offered us glimpses of his potential. What he could do – if given the chance. At Selhurst Park he now has that opportunity. And you really hope he can meet expectations. But in comparisons with Bakayoko, claims he is already the better footballer are just ridiculous.
As is the criticism leveled at Chelsea in the aftermath of the Wembley result. Four Blues graduates made the pitch that night: Loftus-Cheek and Chelsea teammate Tammy Abraham, now on-loan at Swansea City, Ryan Bertrand (Southampton) and Jack Cork (Burnley). Of the four, none would get into Conte’s XI today. Bertrand, perhaps at a pinch, but it’s difficult seeing him dislodge Marcos Alonso from left-back.
What it does prove is Chelsea‘s youth system is doing it’s job. They’re not only producing professionals – but internationals. Rather than slating the work being done at Cobham, those ex-players riding the TV sofa should be highlighting how grateful English football should be to the Blues coaching staff for identifying and developing talent for the national team. That individual players must go elsewhere to forge a career really shouldn’t be the business of the FA or supporters of England. Is it really an issue if Bertrand is playing his football at St Mary’s or Stamford Bridge? Surely it’s just about form when it comes to the crunch for Southgate.
For his sake, you hope Loftus-Cheek takes with a grain of salt all those wanting to raise him up, while putting down the work being done at Chelsea. He, like Abraham, must realise if he’s good enough, he will get his chance at Chelsea.
Andreas Christensen is proof of that. That five-star performance against United was two long, hard years in the making at Borussia Monchengladbach. But ask Christensen and his father today – and they’d say the reward was worth the journey.
Chelsea have a development path for Loftus-Cheek – as they do for every young player on their books. It may not always be to the benefit of the first team – but for England, there really should be no argument in the trade off.
Or is it just the opportunity to have a tired old pop at Chelsea for making the system work for them?