The long-awaited decision has finally come. Declan Rice has pledged his international allegiance to England over the Republic of Ireland, despite already earning three caps for the men in green.
West Ham’s converted defender tweeted on Wednesday that he had submitted a request to Fifa to transfer his registration from one team to the other.
Rice delivered a heart-felt message to Mick McCarthy and Irish supporters who may be disappointed by the news, and talked of the difficulty of choosing between the country where he was raised and the home of his father Séan.
“Ultimately it is a decision I have made with my heart and my head, based on what I believe is best for my future.”
Let’s be honest, all sentiment aside, not only did Gareth Southgate crack open a beer at the news but so did England fans across the country. Finally! Declan Rice is one of the most improved players in the Premier League this season and has given phenomenal performances that have exceeded many of those midfielders that are playing in the so-called ‘big teams’.
After being released by Chelsea at the age of 14, Rice started a journey with the Hammers Academy in 2014 where he quickly broke into the Hammers’ U18 team during his first full season, making two appearances in the U18 Premier League. His success continued at a remarkable rate, singing a pro-contract for West Ham just a year later and starting on his first Premier league match against Southampton, two years after that. The rest is history.
In just his second start for the Hammers earlier this season against Everton, Rice made 11 ball recoveries, won six duels, completed four out of five tackles and finished the game with 82% pass completion. Similarly, in West Ham’s recent display against Liverpool, Rice was a vital part of Manuel Pellegrini’s side and a key reason for the impressive 1-1 result at the London Stadium. As well as nearly getting on the score-sheet, Rice demonstrated immaculate positioning throughout, winning the ball back 11 times and making eight tackles – more than twice any other player on the pitch.
Comparisons have been made already between Rice and former Iron giants Bobby Moore and Rio Ferdinand. Ian Rush recently recently compared the Hammers star to John Stones, even going so far as to say he was better than the Man City defender.
The 20-year-old youngster will most certainly be part of a much-needed revolution in England’s midfield. If we go back to that fateful day last year when the Three Lions lost the World Cup semi-final to Croatia, one question was on everybody’s mind. Can we compete with the world’s best without a world-class central midfielder?
The question now is, could Rice be the spice?
In the words of Hammers coach Manuel Pellegrini, Rice is “a mixture of technical ability and power and he can play as a holding midfielder, as a midfielder, or even as a central defender,” but is this versatility enough for Rice to make it onto the starting squad? He says himself that he does not assume a place in the lion’s magic eleven.
Ahead of him in the squad at the moment are Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Harry Winks, but as things stand, Rice has played more games than any of them this season. Henderson and Dier often receive heavy criticism from fans across the country, and despite sharing the captain’s armband between them neither are the most inspiring players on the pitch.
Granted, they have size and physicality, and they do cause problems on the pitch. They are of the old stock, echoing the structural play of the Lampard and Gerrard years, but unfortunately neither has been able to push the team forward from the middle of the pitch, something Rice has been able to execute with ease and maturity, in recent West Ham fixtures. With Loftus-Cheek and Winks also being young central midfielders but a little bit more inclined to play further up the pitch, Rice could become the defensive rock for the English midfield moving forward. Gareth Southgate has already proven that youth is important in his England squad as they look to enter a ‘fresh cycle’ and the likes of Delph, Henderson and Dier may need to be worried about their spot on the England team against the Czech Republic in March.
There is no denying that at the ripe age of 20, Declan Rice has an impressive career ahead of him and a potential armband for both the West Ham and England squad in years to come.