Declan Rice barely hid his desire to play at a higher level when asked about his West Ham future while with England at the 2022 World Cup. “One hundred per cent I want to play in the Champions League,” he said. “For the last two or three years I’ve been saying that.” Decision-makers at several Premier League clubs surely took note.
“I’ve been playing consistently well for my club and I feel like I really want to keep pushing,” Rice continued. “I see my friends here who are playing Champions League and for big trophies. You only get one career and at the end you want to look back at what you’ve won and the biggest games you’ve played in.”
Recent reports linking Rice with Arsenal and Manchester United have followed the midfielder’s comments with West Ham believed to be open to selling their prize asset for £70m. Rice will be out of contract in the summer of 2024 and so the Hammers might not have another opportunity to cash in.
There’s no doubting Rice’s quality. Even as West Ham have struggled for consistent form in the Premier League this season, the 24-year-old has played well. Rice is proven for club and country and is at the right stage of his career for the next step. In the right team and set-up, he could be one of the best in his position.
However, neither Arsenal nor Manchester United is the right place for Rice. As good as the England international is, he doesn’t possess the skill set needed to thrive for either the Premier League table-toppers or Erik Ten Hag’s team. There would be concerns over his ability to play for a Graham Potter-led Chelsea too – Rice has been consistently linked with the Blues.
Both Arteta and Ten Hag demand quick movement from their midfield when they have the ball at their feet and this is an area where Rice lags behind some of his peers. He is sometimes guilty of being ponderous in possession and this could hold him back from fulfilling his potential at the top of the English and European game.
As a ball carrier, Rice is useful, but not in the way Manchester United require. They need someone who can help break down low defensive blocks by dribbling past one or two opponents. Rice’s ball-carrying skill, however, comes in quick transition when he can take the ball from deep and find a teammate in an attacking position. There is a difference between the two skills.
Of course, Rice is strong enough as a midfield anchor to play for a Champions League-level team, but Arsenal and United are already sorted for players in this mould – would Rice start ahead of Thomas Partey for Arsenal or Casemiro for Manchester United? Would he be satisfied with being a depth option for either club?
Kalvin Phillips’ difficult first season at Manchester City shows the value of picking the right club when taking the next step forward. Phillips was Rice’s midfield partner for England at Euro 2020 and has a similar skill set to his West Ham counterpart, but has struggled for game time at the Etihad Stadium.
Tottenham Hotspur have a clear need for an anchor like Rice, but there’s no suggestion they will be in the market for such a player this summer. Instead, Spurs are likely to target a creative midfielder. Arteta or Ten Hag might unlock a new area of Rice’s game, but the 24-year-old must prioritise finding the right environment for his continued development. He must find the right team, not just the biggest club.