Few players have polarised opinion of fans up and down the country than Declan Rice.
Since breaking into our first team on the final day of the season in 2017, Rice has become a mainstay in not only the Irons midfield but his nation as well.
Yet, every other fanbase in the country claims that their central midfielder is better.
Manchester United fans claim they don’t need to sign Rice because they have Scott Mctominey, yes you read that right Scott Mctominey.
There is, of course, that famous clip on a Newcastle United fan channel of a supporter going into great depth at how Sean Longstaff is the future of English football after one good game and that Declan Rice should ‘run along’.
Tottenham fans blindly believe that Harry Winks is miles better than Rice, despite the fact he is not good enough to tie Dec’s shoelaces.
Football is, of course, a game of opinions and bias. It does beg the question though, what exactly does Declan need to do to get the recognition he deserves from the wider public?
Every England game, the Hammers number 41 will score poorly in the public vote out of 10, usually laughably into the three or four out of 10 range.
Since breaking into the West Ham team, I cannot think of a game where Rice hasn’t put in at least a six or seven out of 10.
The former Chelsea academy man oozes calmness and class with his reading of the game and composure on the ball.
Personally, I haven’t seen a player who is like Rice since Carrick, and that is the highest praise you can offer a player.
David Moyes said in an interview I saw recently that he just gets better and better each game he plays.
He seems to add elements to his game every week.
His marauding run and shot that cannoned off the bar away at Leicester showed he also has the level of technical ability as well defensive awareness that perhaps a year or so he lacked.
The story of the 21-year-olds rise through the ranks is wonderful too.
Released from his boyhood club Chelsea, moving away from home at 14 to live in digs at West Ham United, the last player to be offered a youth deal at the Hammers.
He himself would admit that he probably didn’t have the ability required during his teenage years to make it to the man he is today, captain of West Ham United, and the first name on the team sheet.
It is a testament to his work ethic and upbringing. Rice comes across as a very level headed guy, he interviews very well and speaks with great humility and really looks like he is enjoying life, and it is wonderful to see.
It says a lot about his character that Mark Noble and David Moyes had both earmarked Declan as a future West Ham captain at his age.
Captains are usually the experienced man at the club, mainly because of the other jobs that come along with it.
It isn’t just marshalling your troops on the pitch on a Saturday it is being the ‘right character’ off the pitch too.
Noble has done a phenomenal job over the years representing the Hammers well.
Organising events for local hospitals and charities, welcoming through young players into the first team bubble, being available for those players struggling to settle into the country, and bridging that gap between the management support team and players.
Those are the traits that, of course, Rice needs to learn. But with Noble still, around he has the best possible mentor around.
The 21-year-old admitted to being afraid to be too vocal out on the pitch feeling very much like a junior compared to the more experienced pros.
Rice stated he didn’t want to get told to ‘eff off’ should he overstep the mark with an overzealous reaction to a situation.
However, that is something he may need to get over if he going to succeed as a captain.
When I think of captains during my era of supporting West Ham, two come to mind for very different reasons.
One is currently on the coaching staff, Kevin Nolan – who was an excellent skipper, and the other is Matthew Upson – who pundits claimed Scotty Parker was actually wearing the armband when Upson was.
A captain is supposed to lead from the front, represent the character of the team.
Nolan was excellent at that, he wore his heart on his sleeve, had a noticeably never-say-die attitude and would run into brick walls for the team.
He also ran the game very well; he was often in the referee’s ear trying to help the team edge those 50/50 decisions.
Upson was the polar opposite of that – he often shirked responsibility and went hiding in crucial situations.
There was little surprise that Upson was one of the first out of the door when the Hammers were relegation in 2011.
Allardyce acted quickly and brought in a proper leader in Nolan to shake the place up a bit, and it worked with immediate effect with the Irons returning to the top flight at the first time of asking.
With Nolan and Noble both at the club, Rice has all the right people to speak to should he have any doubt in his ability to captain the side.
I have seen in spells of Rice’s early captaincy spell, helped of course by having the TV Cameras on every game with the current Covid situation.
One moment in particular which was promising was during the success over Wolves, after going 3-0 up, Rice bellowed – “Keep going, keep working, we want more”.
Messages like that are essential, as a club the Irons have been known to have something of a soft underbelly.
It is now a challenge to Rice and Moyes, and of course, Mark Noble to change that mentality into a steely winning mentality.
Performances like that against Sheffield United, Fulham and Villa can only help that mentality. Games in which we didn’t necessarily play well but picked up nine points out of nine.
It is early days in Rice’s ever fledging career, and he will, of course, have dreams of leading out his country, whether that is a realistic dream is questionable with the likes of Kane, Henderson and the likes around the scene.
He has all the right characteristics and the right heart, though, and with age on his side – do not rule it out.
Every West Ham fan knows Declan’s ability and potential, soon the world will take note of the West Ham midfield general.