Zola heaps praise on ‘complete’ Loftus-Cheek but names one thing he can improve

By Isak Möller -

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been a key player for AC Milan since the start of the year, playing more advanced position closer to the goal. If you ask the Italian legend Gianfranco Zola, the Englishman always had it in him. 

Loftus-Cheek has scored six goals since the start of the year, being Milan’s top goalscorer in that period, and the brace against Stade Rennes confirmed his growth. If he were to continue like this, then the €16m (plus bonuses) price tag will look like a proper bargain.

Speaking to Gazzetta dello Sport (see photo below), the former Chelsea player and assistant manager Gianfranco Zola shared his thoughts on Loftus-Cheek’s growth. After all, the player’s best season (goal-wise) was under the guidance of Zola and Maurizio Sarri.

“Loftus-Cheek will surprise you,” you said in the summer…

“He’s a great player and if he can find continuity, also protecting himself from injuries, he will be a true top player. One of those who allow you to make a huge leap in quality: he breaks the balance, he gets past his man, physically very strong,”

Is he back to his best Chelsea days?

“Competing with yourself in a different league is always enriching, I speak from personal experience. Testing yourself in another country improves you and it applies to him too. Today he is even more complete.”

Milan had proof of this: Loftus-Cheek covered multiple roles. In which one can he do his best?

“He was born as an attacking winger, right or left. He adapted to the inside and then was one of the two central defenders in the middle. With this availability, he was able to add defensive phase qualities to his characteristics.

“However, he remains more effective if deployed in the opponent’s half of the field, more as a midfielder than as an attacking midfielder. A little wider feels comfortable than him. Pioli is a very good coach, he knows where to place him to make him increasingly effective.”

In all competitions, he’s now at 7 goals. In your season at Chelsea, he reached 10. Can he improve himself?

“He can easily reach double figures: he’s always dangerous, effective on the counter-attack, decisive in his movement. In the area, he makes his physicality count.”

His physique has also limited him: have the many injuries slowed down his growth?

“Yes, he has great skills but he lacked continuity. If he maintains this consistency he will have an increasingly greater impact on the team’s performance.”

Can he improve in other aspects too?

“He could train his shooting from a distance more. With power like his, he can finish from a distance more often. He would also add these goals to his repertoire: today he scores more from close range, freeing himself with dribbling or leveraging his usual physicality. However, the shot from outside is a basic technical gesture, he can do better.”

Pioli compared him to Milinkovic-Savic…

“It’s all there. Milinkovic remains stronger with his head, he hits with more conviction. But Ruben has another pace, he’s even faster and more dynamic.”

Ruben’s performances at Milan doesn’t surprise you: was it the same when you met him for the first time at Chelsea?

“Yes. I didn’t think a player of that size could be so skilled at dribbling. With Sarri, we proposed training in confined spaces and quick one-twos. I thought Ruben was going to struggle but instead, he was very good. Maurizio was also immediately impressed.”

Technical qualities aside, what is your opinion of the person?

«On a scale of one to ten, he is a top-notch guy. A man, I appreciated him in particular for his availability.”

So it was easier to get the prediction right…

«I had no doubts about the fact that he could be a revelation. I know him and respect him, I’m not at all surprised. I expected him to be able to have a similar impact here and I’m happy because he really deserves it.”

After having established himself in Italy, will he also be able to join the English national team again?

“I hope so, he has paid for the usual injuries and competition in that role. England have very strong players in the middle and who have had more continuity. But if Ruben is well he absolutely has the quality of a national team.”

After struggling with injuries in the past, and also this season, Loftus-Cheek will be hoping to continue on this path for the remainder of the season. That would give him a chance of being called up for the Euros by England manager Gareth Southgate.

Tags AC Milan Chelsea Gianfranco Zola Ruben Loftus-Cheek
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