Ruben Loftus-Cheek is widely considered one of the finest youngsters to come out of Chelsea’s academy in recent years.
Which is hard to believe really, considering he’s barely played for the Blues since making his first-team debut in 2014 and was unceremoniously loan out to Crystal Palace over the summer.
Having been a part of Chelsea’s youth program during their especially-dominant spell a few years back, the youngster grew up idolising the likes of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien at the club.
But according to the 20-year-old in a recent interview with the Evening Standard, it was Germany captain Michael Ballack who he identified with most of all.
Loftus-Cheek said: “I used to watch him playing with the likes of Lampard and Essien in midfield.
“I was coming through the Academy and my coaches always used to say to me ‘watch the games, watch Ballack’.”
The powerful German joined Chelsea on a free transfer from Bayern Munich in 2006 and spent four years at Stamford Bridge, including the 2009–10 season they won the Double.
Loftus-Cheek added: “At the time they brought in a type of analysis which was quite new. It tracked players individually.
“You could go on a laptop, click on a name and watch all their plays from the game. I used to click on Ballack’s name a lot.
“He was a guy that would boss the midfield. It is what my dad used to say to me as well, that I need to boss the midfield too.
“Ballack was a player that ran the game, while Lampard kind of worked off him.”
Using this system, Loftus-Cheek would often study Ballack’s style of play and claims it’s moulded the way he plays today.
He says: “I took his style into the way I play, especially when I played as a No.8 all the way through the Academy and sometimes play now.”
One particular aspect of Ballack’s play that you can see in Loftus-Cheek today is his physically strong and aggressive style.
The youngster admits he had to develop this side of his game to become the player he is today, adding: “I have always been quite tall since the age of 13-14, but I wasn’t powerful with big muscles.
“I have had to develop that Ballack frame and power over a period of time.
“My physicality is a big part of my game. It was a strength that he used and it is something you can compare us with.”
There’s a very good chance that the midfielder will make his Three Lions debut against the Germans at Wembley on Friday night.
Seems appropriate then, doesn’t it?