After a rather underwhelming first half of the Premier League season, at least by the standards they set themselves in a magic carpet ride in Europe last term, West Ham United arrive at a crossroads. A figure of inconsistency under David Moyes, the Irons have simply crumbled under the weight of their own lofty expectations, and a combination of Mark Noble’s departure and a poor summer transfer window has led to a rather average start floating around midtable.
Defeat at home to Brentford in the last game of 2022 put a drab note on what had been a year of progress for West Ham. It leaves you wondering about the state of their team if they fail to qualify for European football in any capacity. It leaves you wondering about Declan Rice. Despite taking over the captaincy officially from Noble this season, it would be hard to keep Rice at the London Stadium for another season given the sheer number of suitors interested in his signature. It could be one window too many for Moyes and co this time.
Having established himself as a first-choice midfielder for England at the World Cup, Rice’s stock will have only increased, but with his contract up next summer, it could be time for the Irons to cash in on the 23-year-old or risk losing him for free. A talented technician, Rice has passing ability and creativity that is deceptive for someone of his size, and his positioning and leadership make him a perfect fit for a number of Champions League sides often favourites for the title with football bets, with Rice himself admitting he wants to test himself amongst Europe’s elite at some stage in his career.
“I see my friends here, who are playing Champions League, winning the big trophies,” he said. “You only get one career. At the end of your career, you want to look back at what you’ve won and the biggest games you’ve played in.
“I’m really ambitious, and I really want to do that.”
The two obvious candidates are Chelsea and Manchester United. The former actually had Rice in their academy at Cobham as a youngster, but released him which led to him joining West Ham. Growing up alongside Mason Mount, who Rice now plays with at international level, there is certainly going to be some influence from those around Stamford Bridge attempting to get Rice to make the switch across to West London.
United signed Casemiro from Real Madrid over the summer, but while he has played as a lone pivot to keep Fred and Scott McTominay out of the side, Erik ten Hag prefers a double pivot so Rice could be the perfect partner to accompany the Brazilian in front of the defence.
Only time will tell if Rice leaves the London Stadium over the summer. Staying throughout his career would see him evoke club legend status, similarly to Noble, but with the possibility of winning trophies and playing in the Champions League on a regular basis, Rice could be influenced to make the move as he approaches his prime years.