West Ham United, having won only 5 times in 2020, ended the season with a bottom half finish. Just barely avoiding relegation, it was their third such finish in the last 4 seasons. Amidst the chaos and disappointment of the last few years, however, they produced a future star on the pitch — and perhaps the key to their transfer business.
That player is none other than Declan Rice, the Hammers’ Player’s Player of the Year for for the second consecutive season. The 21-year-old has been in impressive form for the London club this season and could be on the move in the coming months, with Manchester United one of the top tipped teams to secure his signature. While United already have several options in holding midfield with Nemanja Matić, Fred, and Scott McTominay, according to reports the Reds are still looking for additions. A recent report claims that Rice is very much on United’s target list for this summer.
A product of the Chelsea youth academy, Rice left the Blues as a teenager and moved across the capital to West Ham, where he began to make a name for himself. He is an archetypal defensive midfielder, blessed with an intelligent reading of the game, extreme composure, and an innate ability to procure the ball so that his more attack-minded teammates have the freedom to prosper further up the pitch.
Nominally a centre-back at youth level, the Englishman developed into a midfielder of substance under Manuel Pellegrini, but having honed his craft in defence, it’s no surprise that his tackling, aggression and positional play are at such high level.
With many United fans complaining of Matić’s lackluster displays in the final few games of the season, Solskjaer should look to rejuvenate the team with a player who can alternate with the aging (yet still important) Serbian. Rice would be a good addition to the team for this reason, and also because he can fill two important positions owing to his versatility. In defense, although Victor Lindelöf has done a reasonable job this season, Rice could also eventually be a defender that could complement Harry Maguire.
Primarily though, Rice would provide immediate competition and cover for Matić. Comparing the two, Rice has been tremendously busy for the Hammers this season: making a total of 85 tackles at a 60% success rate and tallying 43 inceptions and 254 recoveries — demonstrating just how good his awareness is. On the other hand, Matić has had 46 tackles at a success rate of 59%, as well as 29 interceptions and 183 recoveries. However, it’s important to note Matić’s exceptional play the restart — until the number of games in quick succession started taking a toll on his form.
The six foot three Serbian’s technical mind and experience make him one of the most accomplished midfielders in the world, and in that category of player, he genuinely ticks every box. That is not to say Rice cannot be as good as him in the future. If signed, in a few years under Matić’s wing, Rice could turn out to be one of the finest players in Europe. One can say Matić will be a dream mentor since Rice can learn an awful lot from him, especially how he intelligently shields the defense and starts attacks from the base of midfield.
Manchester United should make a move for Rice, as he fits exactly the profile of the kind of signing that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer values, but they will face stiff competition. Frank Lampard and co. are keen on re-signing the Englishman this summer, as Chelsea also see Rice as the perfect player to mould into a centre-back and help solve their defensive problems.
With West Ham’s Premier League survival confirmed, and the fact that Rice is already an England international who has captained the Hammers this season, there is absolutely no doubt that his transfer won’t come cheap. West Ham boss David Moyes addressed questions over Rice’s future by saying that “He’s not going anywhere unless you get one of those steel vans that have the cash in it. You better bring one of them!”
Manchester United should get that van ready. Declan Rice is worth it.