Monday 21 October 2019

West Ham find new hero as Rice edges closer to England call-up

 

West Ham's Declan Rice. Photo: Paul Harding/PA Wire
West Ham's Declan Rice. Photo: Paul Harding/PA Wire

Charlie Eccleshare

Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Trevor Brooking - West Ham have an illustrious history of producing players who achieve recognition for club and country.

They are also a club who adore individuals who show passion playing for the club - few more so than Billy Bonds, the 799-game veteran who was celebrated on Saturday as one of the London Stadium stands was named in his honour.

So without wishing to pile pressure on a 20-year-old in the middle of a breakthrough season, the question after the Hammers' 2-0 victory over Newcastle was whether Declan Rice can one day go close to matching those legends of yesteryear.

The omens certainly looked good. It may only have been against a lacklustre Newcastle side, but this was another masterclass. As well as burying a header to open the scoring after seven minutes, Rice controlled the tempo with quick passing and acted as a constant block to Newcastle's attacks with his smart positional sense.

There seems little doubt that Rice will be the fulcrum of the team if he stays.

Question

The main question until recently was which international side he would choose. Now, having opted to play for England despite earning three caps in friendlies for the Republic of Ireland, Rice is pushing to be in Gareth Southgate's squad for this month's Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.

In front of England assistant manager Steve Holland, Rice convincingly made his case - and received glowing praise from Mark Noble, his central midfield partner.

Noble, who is a modern-day Bonds both in the sense of his West Ham hero status and lack of a senior England cap, said: "I think he fully deserves it (an England call-up). He has been fantastic - his performances, character.

"Let's not forget that he got brought off at half-time on the opening day of the season. He got left out of the squad in the second game. For a young player, that could have killed their confidence. But it hasn't and he has gone from strength to strength."

Rice has also been subjected to criticism in the wake of his nationality switch, but Noble says "that doesn't fuss him".

West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini said: "For me, in this moment, he is the best English holding midfielder."

Having made such an awful start to the season that saw him hooked at half-time against Liverpool, Rice's improvement mirrors the team's transformation since August. After losing their first four matches, West Ham are up to ninth.

Telegraph.co.uk

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