Declan Rice has long been linked with Manchester United and the West Ham midfielder’s move to Old Trafford could finally become a reality this summer.
The 22-year-old has led the way for the Hammers in the Premier League, helping them challenge for a Champions League place while becoming one of the first names on Gareth Southgate’s team-sheet ahead of the delayed European championships this summer.
Rice’s consistent form has led to frequent speculation over the future of a man who has captained the Hammers to their current position of fourth.
The MEN understands that Rice is interested in joining United, having picked the brains of several players, namely club captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, during the latest international break last month.
It’s been suggested that Jesse Lingard, who is currently impressing during his loan spell with West Ham, could be used as a make-weight in any potential deal.
With that development in mind, here is a selection of comments made by leading Premier League pundits about Rice.
Although former Chelsea graduate Rice has received plenty of praise this season, he’s not always been on the end of such comments from Gary Neville.
During the most recent international break, the former United captain made a bold claim about the West Ham man as he continues to compete for the place in the Three Lions engine room.
Sky Sports pundit Neville said: “[Kalvin] Phillips is better at passing the ball through the lines. [Jordan] Henderson and Rice are good on the ball, but I think Phillips is the best out of the three on the ball.”
Back in 2019, the same pundit was critical of Rice – and football’s governing bodies – for allowing him to switch his international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England.
Neville said: “I’ve heard he’s a really good lad, I think that ultimately a player should not be allowed to play for his country’s senior team and then switch.
“It doesn’t feel right to me. It’s a really strange thing to see and FIFA and UEFA need to stop it.
“Country is about an emotion, it’s about a feeling and that might be England, it might be Ireland, it might be Wales, whatever country you play for, I’ve no problem with the process of players picking who they want to play for.
“I genuinely think you should just pick your country at the point where you’re selected for a national team.”
There is no doubt that Rice has improved immeasurably since bursting onto the scene at the London Stadium.
Indeed, he has even been handed the captain’s armband by West Ham manager David Moyes this campaign and they continue to upset the odds in the race for the top four, with Champions League football now on the horizon next season.
Having worked with the player in the Republic of Ireland set-up, Keane said: “Where he needs to improve, there are plenty of aspects when you think about it.
“Over the last few months he has had a lot of praise, I worked with him when he was with the Ireland squad.
“Where he needs to improve, where do you want me to start? His positional play, I don’t think is consistent enough, he doesn’t stay with runners, he’s sloppy in possession. I can go on…”
Some time has passed since former United captains and Premier League winners Neville and Keane made those comments about Rice.
In general this season, there has been almost universal praise for the West Ham midfielder, as highlighted by Jamie Carragher, speaking about the 22-year-old last month.
He said on Sky Sports: “I’m a big fan, he was another one that burst on to the scene at a young age. He then got a bit of criticism at times, I thought unjustly really, because you know he was an a regular for England at that age.
“He’s a fantastic player, he really is, I’m a huge fan of his and you can see he thinks about his game. You hear him talk about Yaya Toure, Patrick Vieira bursting forward. He’s not thinking of himself as just a sitting midfield player.
“I think his passing is really good, I like that, he drives forward, very rarely gets beaten one-vs-one. He’s got that real physical strength, as well, in his upper body.
“I think he’s a top player Declan Rice. But when you’re talking about him getting more goals and assists, when you’ve got a guy next to you [Soucek] who has already got eight goals, it’s very difficult to be that man, because you’ve got to sit there.”
It’s not only United who have been linked with a high-profile transfer swoop for the England man.
Indeed, his former club Chelsea and their ex-manager Frank Lampard failed in their pursuit of a one-time academy player last summer, much to the disappointment of his would-be manager at Stamford Bridge.
Lampard said: “We are fortunate to have him in England. West Ham are fortunate to have him. He’s a leader and it’s clear that he’s destined for great things.
“I have probably given it away with how I spoke about him, but I think it’s common knowledge that I was a big fan of his. I don’t want Declan to be in an uncomfortable position, because what I see from him is absolute performance and a desire to play for West Ham.
“The choice will be Declan’s as the years go ahead, but his performances are great to watch.”
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Although the east London side have been firm in their transfer stance, one former United player says it’s inevitable Rice will eventually end up at one of the Premier League’s big-hitters.
“They know they are going to lose him, because many big clubs are interested in Declan, but right now he’s the man of West Ham. I’m not surprised.
“I knew this player would never allow his head to get bigger because he’s so focused and humble – and you can see him smiling, he’s happy, what a joy. I’m very pleased for him.”