When the 2018-19 campaign got underway, Declan Rice was a centre-half at West Ham experimenting with the odd outing in midfield and harbouring ambitions of adding to three senior caps with Ireland.
A matter of months later he was being heralded as one of the finest exponents of a holding role in English football and was offered an opportunity to switch international allegiance to the Three Lions. A meteoric rise to prominence was taken in, and there has been no slowing down since.
Fast forward to the present and Rice is now an integral part of Gareth Southgate’s plans, with a European Championship final appearance under his belt, and one of the most improved players on the planet.
Captaincy duties have been taken on with West Ham at club level, with impressive progress under David Moyes seeing the Hammers shortened to 7/2 for those betting on English Premier League top-four markets at Paddy Power.
— Declan Rice (@_DeclanRice) October 31, 2021
Rice has been leading from the front at the London Stadium in a manner few could have predicted some three years ago. He has become a talismanic figure in the middle of the park and a poster boy for an ambitious club heading in the right direction.
European football has already returned to the East End, with the potential now there for Champions League competition to follow. Having experienced plenty of lows in recent times, West Ham are enjoying floating as high as the bubbles they love to sing about.
Will Rice stay?
The only issue when stepping out of a pit of mediocrity and rubbing shoulders with the elite once more is that unwanted attention can be attracted. Interest is inevitability shown in those that have allowed such a reversal in fortune to come about.
In the Hammers’ case, Rice is very much front and centre. He is now one of the most talked-about players in the Premier League, with his role as a water carrier taking on ever-greater importance in modern football.
Such a standing brings with it plenty of admiration, praise and transfer talk. Moyes and Co can handle the former, but the latter presents an unwelcome distraction.
There was a point not all that long ago when each passing window brought with it fresh rounds of rumours regarding supposed interest in Rice from Manchester United and Chelsea. Some big numbers were speculated on, but no formal offers were put on the table. An opportunity appears to have been missed.
— West Ham United (@WestHam) November 13, 2021
Moyes has said of a home-grown hero: “There was a bargain to be got with Declan at £100 million. That bargain’s now gone.”
Those words were clearly aimed in the direction of Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, with any suitors warned off before they start digging a little deeper into collective pockets.
It is easy to see why such a stance is being taken, with Jack Grealish moving to Manchester City in a nine-figure deal during the summer of 2021, and the Hammers believe they have an almost priceless asset on their hands.
Rice’s ambition is being met in his current surroundings, with the promise of more to come, and that threatens to scupper the hopes of domestic rivals from the North West and West London. A deal may have been possible at one stage, but that boat has now sailed.