This season, there’s been huge competition in the east End — and I’m not talking on the pitch here. At the moment, the makers of EastEnders and the board of West Ham appear to be having a competition as to which of them can create more sagas, and who can make them last the longest. There’s a good chance West Ham are winning.
If the furore over the stadium, the relationship with LLDC, the owners, and the results since moving haven’t been enough, the future of one of the graduates of our Academy, Declan Rice, has been placed firmly in the spotlight this season. For me, there’s no doubt that Rice is in the running for this season’s Hammer of the Year already.
The guy just oozes class on the football field, and seems to improve week after week. In the recent defeat against Manchester City, he really didn’t look out of place (and that’s meant as a compliment, not an insult).
The scariest thing? He’s just 19 years old. This boy has got a big future ahead of him; he’s a player that we could build a team around. It’ll come as no surprise then for many West Ham fans, who collectively have been put through the ringer on the various sagas to have befallen the club over recent years, that the future of Rice is very much up in the air.
It seems that the club and player are unable to agree terms on a new contract, and that a host of other clubs are reportedly interested in the player. If we are to believe what we hear, Jose Mourinho apparently sent scouts to the recent game against Manchester City. So what’s the problem? Not with Rice, it seems, who it’s believed is happy at the club.
However, the latest reports suggest that Rice’s ‘representatives’ are pushing for a basic wage which is 10 times its current amount — an increase from £3,000 to £30,000 per week. That’s an astonishing pay rise by any standards, but for a 19-year old, to increase a salary by that amount makes a real statement of intent.
West Ham, for their part, are prepared to wait until the end of the season before further contract talks can take place. Rice’s contract expires at the end of next season, but West Ham also suggest that it contains a clause allowing them to extend it to 2021. The fact that we might consider using that clause is somewhat worrying, because it suggests that there is some doubt about a deal acceptable to all parties.
And what of Rice himself? Earlier this month, speaking to the Metro newspaper, he said: ‘I love West Ham to pieces and the contract is going to be sorted out – we’ve been speaking about it for a while. ‘I’m not really bothered about what other clubs are interested. I’m just focused on playing for West Ham. The manager says I need to keep improving and that will come, and that’s my take on it. I’ve just got to keep playing, keep my feet on the ground and I will end up signing another contract at West Ham.’
Sensible words from Rice, and my gut feeling is that the current frenzy over this ‘will he, won’t he’ transfer saga is a bit overblown, much like the decision he is currently making on his international future. The club have said that he will not go for nothing at the end of next season, and whilst no-one can guarantee anything, it would seem fairly unlikely that the current incumbents of the boardroom will lose the chance to make a hefty profit in the event that he was to be sold.
Surely, though, pressure from an already wary fanbase will encourage the Daves to get the chequebook out. It seems the biggest danger to West Ham is if Rice becomes disillusioned. As football supporters, it’s easy for us to think short-term but in reality we are in the very early stages of a project that may take a little while to come to fruition.
We supporters have been crying out for a young, energetic, pacy, and successful West Ham team for a while now, and we’re not there yet, but we’re heading in the right direction under Pelligrini. Hopefully, Rice can see that and his comments are reassuring.
Many will say that West Ham need new blood in the transfer window — someone who can reliably support Marco Arnautovic to reduce the burden on him, for instance — but perhaps the best signing that we can make is for the player who could, in the future, very likely captain not only his current club, but who knows, maybe his national one too.