Not only did England fans have to wait an extra year for Euro 2020 to kick off, Hammers fans also had an extra-long wait to see a West Ham player play an influential part in a major tournament.
Aaron Cresswell made a good attempt at getting into Euro 2016 and the World Cup in 2018, but qualifiers was the best he could get. Step up Declan Rice!
We’ve watched Declan grow in ability and confidence at club level over the years and he’s still only 22 years old. I know that fact is repeated tirelessly, but it’s utterly impressive.
On an international level, he was touted as one of Ireland’s best prospects and following his switch from green to an England shirt, the fact remains the same.
He had a tough time on a personal level in choosing to represent England and it stood to his character that any negativity hasn’t affected his game.
It was clear from the first game against Croatia that Rice was going to be a pivotal part of this team. Southgate had a clear plan for the set of players he had, which was to be fairly cautious and play from the back.
That suits our Rice down to the ground. Whilst Kalvin Phillips and Mason Mount were busy winning the ball back from the opposition, Declan was set to be in the right place at the right time to receive a pass and either gently tap it sideways or spot a move forwards.
There wasn’t much variation from this tactic throughout the tournament. Rice was always allowed to sit and guard the midfield. He also took on defensive duties from set pieces and occasionally tracking back.
There was very little opportunity to attack from his point of view, which often means being the ‘quiet one’.
He did make one great run and subsequently hit a thunderous shot against Ukraine – it was a moment we all hoped would end with the ball in the back of the net.
Statistically, Declan had a really positive Euros. He was an integral part of the team, playing most of all seven games, totalling up 538 minutes.
After a pretty heavy-going season with West Ham, his level of fitness in those minutes was incredible.
He had one memorable bout of cramp whilst attempting to celebrate Harry Kane’s goal versus Germany – surely an iconic goal celebration in years to come.
He finished up the tournament with a 91% pass accuracy, putting him just a couple of per cent behind the best in the competition such as Aymeric Laporte, Toni Kroos, Marco Veratti and Eric Garcia.
In the final, (yes, the final!), Rice was at the top of the pile for most successful dribbles alongside Italy’s Chiesa, with five each.
It seems as though his slightly more forward thinking approach as the game progressed paid off in terms of stats.
Overall, Declan has risen to 44th in the UEFA rankings as a result of Euro 2020, having started the tournament in 89th spot.
That’s all very positive for the 22-year-old’s confidence, England’s future and, dare I say it, value.
So what else proved to us that Rice had really taken the gauntlet and was ready to be a fully-fledged international?
One of the most impressive things for me was his maturity and collectedness. After being on the receiving end of a yellow card against Germany, he didn’t lose his cool and he rarely backed out of his responsibilities. It was a really grown up performance.
This wasn’t the only example of his discipline. As mentioned, he plays a slightly more holding role with England than West Ham. It was clear that he had taken the instructions from Gareth Southgate seriously.
He didn’t give in to temptation to wander off and start doing other players’ jobs. As we can see from the statistics, he let his partners win back the ball and play to their strengths.
He has formed such an important partnership with Kalvin Phillips, so quickly too.
This was his captain abilities shining through, using his intuition and being vocal. It feels like anyone could have been beside him and he could have made it work.
It’s hard not to be impressed with Declan Rice’s first ever major tournament. He was under pressure to perform for a number of reasons; justifying his switch to play for England, living up to the hype and repaying Gareth Southgate’s belief in him.
The critics may say that he didn’t do enough to get himself noticed, but it could be argued that’s exactly what he was there to do – be inconspicuous.
The chances are, if we were all talking about noticing Declan many times throughout Euro 2020, it would have been because he’d made a mistake.
He’s got polishing to do, but it was a great start to what will surely be a long, and hopefully winning, England career.