Statistics don’t always matter a great deal in football, but already this season Declan Rice leads his team in pass success and interceptions, and already looks like a shoe-in for Hammer of the Year.
With a strong start to the season, it is clear that Rice is already one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League, but how good is he?
Supporting a team that hasn’t lifted a major trophy since 1980 doesn’t give you many bragging rights; so we have to look elsewhere for success and what better place than the Academy of Football?
I spent most of the 2000s basking in the reflected glory of Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand’s trophy cabinet until the next prodigy announced himself on the scene.
We’ve had many false dawns in recent years. Freddie Sears, James Tomkins and Anton Ferdinand all enjoyed good careers; but it has been some time since West Ham produced a player who could potentially become world class.
Twenty-year-old Rice has already established himself as a senior international and seems to be improving on a weekly basis.
Michail Antonio gushed about Rice’s work-rate and physicality during the 2-0 win over Manchester United, describing him as one of the best in the top-flight. He said: ‘After Fernandinho, after Kante, I’d probably put him third.’
Jamie Redknapp noted Rice’s impressive defensive statistics when making his case: ‘He ranks fourth for interceptions and seventh for ball recoveries (in the Premier League). I believe he could apply those talents to central defence, too, while being the proficient passer Gareth Southgate wants.’
Firmly established in the Hammers and England first team, it is no surprise that rumours are once again swelling that Manchester United are weighing up a £70 million bid as they look to rebuild around a young English core.
Statistically Rice already appears to be the complete player, his 89 per cent pass accuracy leads his team and the defensive prowess can be observed by his average of 3.8 tackles per game, fifth highest in the Premier League, a benefit of his evolution from centre back.
Despite the impressive statistics, Rice still feels a way off from the league’s very best defensive midfielders. It is difficult to imagine the unflappable N’Golo Kanté giving away as rash a penalty as Rice’s handball against Crystal Palace.
Rice was also criticised for his play during England’s defeat to the Czech Republic, where he recorded zero interceptions or successful tackles over 88 minutes.
Undeniably it was the youngster’s worst performance in an England shirt, and while he’ll undoubtedly rebound from this poor showing, Rice clearly has some time before he can consistently dominate at the level of Fernandinho or Fabinho.
Rice’s progression and consistency over the past two seasons has been remarkable, his work-rate and composure are the perfect combination to endear him to Hammers fans.
He already feels like everything we wanted Reece Oxford to become. Rice’s play and the remarkable statistics he’s compiled so far in the season feel like a leap up from last year, he feels well on the way to reaching that upper echelon of Premier League players.
Declan Rice is far from the finished article, his career is heading in the right direction; if he stays loyal to West Ham and with a bit of luck, we could soon see another Hammer lifting the World Cup in three year’s time.