After the high of reaching the final of Euro 2020 last summer, several England players have experienced a major comedown this season. Look through Gareth Southgate’s squad for the tournament and you will find numerous players who have struggled to get going for their clubs this term. One man, Declan Rice, has gone from strength to strength since that heartbreaking loss to Italy.

Rice has been one of the standout performers in the Premier League in 2021/22. West Ham are once again exceeding expectations by mounting another push for the top four, and Rice has been integral to their efforts. Take him out of David Moyes’ side and it is hard to see West Ham getting anywhere near the Champions League spots.

During Moyes’ first spell at the London Stadium, Declan Rice was often deployed as part of a back three. As recently as last season, many speculated that his long-term future lay in defence. That was an opinion put forward by Gary Neville among others.

“I have always wondered whether he will end up in a top team back at centre-back, because of the nature of the game,” Neville said. “I just think there will come a point where he could be a centre-back as well in one of the top teams. I think the demands on players to be good on the ball and drive out with the ball. I think he is a good defender and has a massive physique about him, in terms of good speed.”

In October 2020 Rice himself stated that he would “never rule out” dropping into the backline again, before adding that he saw himself as a “holding midfielder in the near future”.

Even that description now looks outdated. The most striking thing about Rice’s performances this season is the fact he can no longer be described as a holder. He is instead playing as a box-to-box midfielder, a player who is involved in both the defensive and attacking phases of play. Picture Declan Rice this term and the image that comes most readily to mind is him striding through the centre of the park with the ball at his feet.

Rodri, Bernardo Silva and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are the only midfielders with more carries per 90 minutes than Declan Rice. While he is adept at breaking up play, he is not merely an enforcer who sits in front of the back four. The 22-year-old is fast becoming the all-round midfield player.

Rice has held up Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure as players he would like to emulate. It is hard not to notice the similarities, even if the England international has a long way to go to reach the level of those two Premier League icons.

Inevitably, then, Declan Rice has been linked with a move away from the London Stadium. Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City are all thought to be keen. Rice is under contract until 2024, but West Ham could opt to cash in this summer to maximise his value. Perhaps the only way they can realistically retain him is to qualify for the Champions League, but that still looks unlikely despite their lofty position in the table.

Moyes has gone on record to say he feels £100m would be a bargain for the midfielder. With each passing game this season, it is becoming harder to argue with that.

 


 

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