Written by: Conor Culverhouse
Hammer of the Year. Backup Captain. England starter. Declan Rice has had an amazing year in, let’s be honest, an awful side and he is still underrated by many people. I have followed West Ham intensely for about 10 years since I turned 12 and really began to understand football. I can honestly say I cannot remember a player who had the combination of determination, ability and passion that Declan has. In my opinion he is the best player I have seen in a West Ham shirt on a regular, consistent basis.
I didn’t get to many games in the past 4 years as I was at University and season tickets are not friendly on the University budget but somehow, I was at a couple of the games that I think were important to Rice. I was at his debut at Burnley on the last day of the season when he came on for 3 minutes and it seemed rather innocuous. I was then at Newcastle in 2017 when he made the mistake and subsequently got benched for the next few games. You could tell early on though that he could play and ever since he has backed up all the praise given to him by multiple people.
There are many different things that make Rice the player he is and more importantly, can be. First, his work ethic. Most the criticism I have heard about Rice is as follows: “he can’t run with the ball” “he can’t shoot”. Now, beside these being ill-found due to him being a defensive minded player, the way he has heard this and worked on these parts of his game is impressive. I remember at Aston Villa early in the year where we had played some of the second half with 10-men following Masuaku’s red card in the last minute Rice picked the ball up and went on a powerful run down the left-wing and cut inside before playing the ball to Fornals. He has made many more runs like this as the season went on. Regarding his shooting, well… we saw what he did against Watford didn’t we? The way Rice hears his critics and answers them makes me think that a) he doesn’t care about outside noise and he uses it to fuel him and b) he can be a serious, serious, world class player. Bear this in mind. He is a Centre Back by trade (although I prefer him in midfield) who can read the game, pass the ball with both feet, is good in the air, is a great communicator, is superb in the tackle, can dribble confidently and has a wicked shot on him. He has the ability to be the all-round player.
The second thing I want to talk about is his leadership. He is 21 years old and is, to my mind, the best leader we have behind Noble. His understanding of the game means he should be communicating to his teammates issues or tactics and he does that. Constantly pointing and giving advice. He also works harder than anyone at West Ham when on the pitch. Part of that is due to his youth but he works from the first whistle to the last and this is epitomised by his playing every minute of every game this past season. Given his leadership and also footballing abilities I would not be surprised to see him captain England on a consistent basis at some point in his career.
His consistency is also something that stands him in good stead. Rice is by no means perfect, but he constantly performs at a high level. If he makes a mistake he is soon to rectify it and he will work to pay it back in double. People may say that he doesn’t do much that he can really do wrong, he typically gets the ball and passes it to more creative players but I would disagree. He has made 250 tackles since his debut and has given away 1 penalty (which was for handball, not a foul). He has committed 1 error leading to a goal in the same time. This is incredible maturity for such a young defensive minded player. Think of similar players like John Stones, he can be amazing or a liability. I don’t see that with Rice, he is consistent and consistently good.
I also enjoy how underrated he is. Rumours have Rice valued at around £60-70m which is a joke. He is 21 years old, a born leader, can play at the back and in midfield, and can do pretty much anything asked of him. To contrast, a 25-year-old Harry Maguire cost £85m. I really hope Rice stays and we can build a team around him, and if that happens then maybe this “next step” can be realised but something tells me that won’t happen. If GSB sell our talisman (and let’s face it, he is) for any less than £100m then some team has hit pay dirt. Given the current market set by the purchase of Harry Maguire this is not unreasonable. I think though, if he stays, he could become one of the greatest players to ever wear a West Ham shirt. I have no doubt he will be a prominent figure in the England team and likely captain of West Ham.
Rice can be one of the best holding midfielders in the world. He has the attitude, the ability and the opportunity. I just hope he does it as a West Ham player.