With Premier League footballers returning to training this week, there has been a refreshing air of optimism around the sport for the first time since the competition's suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One player's spirits have cause to be higher than most, however. Ruben Loftus-Cheek has admitted he is glad to be returning to work after missing almost a year through rupturing his Achilles' tendon before last May's Europa League final.
Speaking to the club's official website, the midfielder spoke about his ambitions to play his way back into the England squad with the European Championships postponed until next summer, as well as his delight at being reunited with his Chelsea team mates.
Talking about his return to normality, RLC admitted his own struggles with lockdown, saying: “I’ve been the same as everyone, it’s been difficult.
“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. It’s been very unusual to not be playing football every day. 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 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.”
Loftus-Cheek also addressed concerns about the return to training being so soon after the peak of the virus in England; this following the announcement that N'Golo Kante was given permission to continue isolating himself from the club's Cobham HQ for health reasons.
Kante's brother tragically died in 2018 from a heart attack, and the Frenchman doesn't want to take any chances. Loftus-Cheek, however, insists that he has no concerns as the Premier League aims to resume in June.
“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. We’ve been involved in the conversations and our opinions have been noted.
"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.”
The Englishman was a youthful member of Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad in 2018, adding a new dimension to the middle after an impressive campaign on loan at Crystal Palace. He is hoping that he can do enough next season to force his way back into the squad for the Euros in 2021, and earn his first cap since November 2018.
Determined not to waste the opportunity, he said: “I’ve put a lot of hard work into getting fit and had just finished what was kind of like my pre-season but then lockdown came. It was frustrating but that’s life. 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.”