Why Declan Rice has a huge future in football at club and international level
Background image via: Geograph/Chris Heaton. Used under Creative Commons.
West Ham United have always been synonymous with producing youth. From Rio Ferdinand, to John Terry and Frank Lampard. The Hammers' has always given teenagers a chance to shine at the highest level. Now, it looks as though the London club have unearthed another absolute gem of a footballer; Declan Rice.
Born in London, England, 1999. Rice began his footballing journey at Chelsea, aged just seven. In 2014, a move to West Ham came to fruition. A couple of years later he'd go on to make his professional debut in the 2016/17 campaign, but it was the following season in which he began to make a name for himself. Rice made 31 appearances in all competitions as an 18-year-old. He's started this term in a similar vein. The young man turned 20 just two days ago. That's an unbelievable start to his career.
In the modern-day game, versatility is a vital asset. Players like Ashley Young and James Milner have made careers due to being able to play at a high level in multiple positions. Rice can play in midfield or at the back. For a man so young, his knowledge of the game is already at an elite level. You have to be intelligent both positionally and mentally to play in arguably the two most difficult spots on the pitch. He's already excelling in both.
This is where I'd like to credit West Ham and Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean has given Rice freedom. He's allowed to go out there and express himself and that's why he's enjoying his football so much at this juncture. You cannot help but take a liking to the young man off the field, too, as the below video encapsulates perfectly.
He's just a lad who wants to make a living playing the sport he loves while making those around him happier in the process. What's not to love about that?
Arguably, Rice's best career game came this weekend in a huge London derby against Arsenal. West Ham were at home, but The Gunners were favourites for the clash. Defensively, The Hammers were solid, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co. were completely shut down. Rice was at the heart of everything positive. He led by example, was tough in the tackle, ensured he was spot on positionally. Quite frankly, Rice would just not be beaten on that day. Oh, he also scored the sole goal, too, with a lovely little curled finish past a hapless Bernd Leno...
While goals aren't really a part of his game (the aforementioned strike was his first professional one), it was brilliant to see what it meant to him. Rice ran straight over to the West Ham faithful, celebrating it just as viciously as every single Hammer within the stands. At that moment, football felt pure, football felt like a fans' game - rather than the huge global business it is today. I thank him for that.
The only thing that I'm yet to cover is nationality. Whether Rice chooses the Republic of Ireland or England is solely his prerogative. No doubt the media will get on his back should he make the wrong decision in their view, but rather than lauding him, he should be praised. It's his choice and his alone. Let him make it peacefully and in his own time.
As for West Ham themselves, they've struggled to keep ahold of their top academy graduates in the past. I suspect that this time something similar could play out in the future, but for now, just enjoy his immense talent and ability, because he's one of your own...