‘I’ve pressed the button that stopped my level of caring for Declan Rice’

The transfer saga dragged on for too long over the summer and it was gut-wrenching

Declan Rice (WHU) Kai Havertz (C) at the West Ham United v Chelsea EPL match, at the London Stadium, London, UK on February 11, 2023.

Supporting West Ham, as any true fan will know, means embracing the highs along with the lows – and let’s be honest, there are generally significantly more lows than highs, even if we’ve been a bit spoilt lately. We’ve had a perfect demonstration of this over the last couple of months, with the highs of our fantastic European win, almost immediately followed by the lows of the ‘to which club will Declan Rice go to’ saga.

Saga, of course, is the right word. It began less than 12 hours after lifting the Conference League trophy for David Sullivan to remind us what we all now realise we signed up for as West Ham fans. By this, of course I mean firing the starting gun on the Declan Rice ‘auction’ and in so doing, making sure that there was always something we could commiserate, even in one of our finest moments.

Cue weeks and weeks of endless drama and such questions: Where will he end up? What will be the fee? How amazing will his new team be? As a fully paid-up Hammer, I found all of this quite gut-wrenching. Let’s be honest, as West Ham fans, it’s been a pretty interminable summer.

Notwithstanding the rubbish weather, the fact that we’ve spent most of it waiting for Rice to sign for Arsenal has been the equivalent to being on one of those fairground rides where you sit down, strap yourself in, and watch your carriage slowly climb in height before it suddenly drops away, but without the fun. I’m not sure about you, but I actually found it a relief when he finally signed for them: at least it has given us the certainty and taken away the hope that he might actually stay. As we all know, hope is a killer.

To be honest, I’m pretty blasé about his departure. We all know that Arsenal won’t win the league, because over 38 games, Manchester City are better, and I also think they might be surprised by Newcastle and Manchester United this season, with Liverpool back in the mix too. But they’re likely to be in the top six, and with all the will in the world, we won’t. 

As my blood runs claret and blue, so my amount of caring about any player connected with any of those teams would be difficult to detect, even with the world’s most powerful microscope. So, I’ve avoided the social media love-in, I have no particular hankering for any particular brand of yoghurt (I’m looking at you, Muller), and I’m not bothered about whether he wins trophies or not. 

Yes, I’m grateful for everything he has given to West Ham – and make no mistake, he has been immense – but now he’s gone, I’ve simply pressed the button that deactivates my level of caring for him and his career. This is quite a strange feeling, to be honest, but oddly liberating. What’s even stranger is that I’ve sort of found myself nodding sagely at the way West Ham have conducted this whole transfer negotiation.

Shock horror, dare I even say it, we seem to have come out of it quite well, getting the price that we wanted: at one stage it really felt like Arsenal were being a bit like Del Boy, with the old ‘I bet you £5 that I can make you turn over your hands without touching them… hold out your hands… no the other way’ trick. Maybe Sullivan knew exactly what he was doing on that radio show. Perhaps I underestimated him when I wrote in the last magazine. Who knows.

I’m glad that the Gunners eventually stumped up the cash but really disappointed in the way they appeared to conduct themselves throughout – whilst I’ve never had any affection for Arsenal, over the years I’ve respected them at least. This has really been eroded with both their increasingly disrespectful on-field antics, and now their off-field ones too. 

A couple of sticks of chewing gum and a packet of crisps for Declan Rice? Oh, do one. But now he’s gone. Logging onto West Ham’s site on his departure day, and reading Declan’s farewell note was quite an experience. 

I found myself just getting irritated and wound up. Did we really need to read about how great his memories are, the affection that he holds for us as fans, and his need for us to understand that he wants to win trophies? Is this a thing where he’s just trying to make himself feel better? 

I’m sure what he said was true, but one of the best players in England, and potentially world football, has just left us. It’s hard enough to process and things like this can make it worse: it’s like the breaking up of a relationship, the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech. 

I don’t want to hear it, and we probably didn’t need to be reading about it. Oh, and while we’re at it, was I the only one that thought that we didn’t really need a Declan Rice video from the social media team that presented itself as more of an obituary? 

He’s moved clubs for goodness’ sake, we’re not attending his funeral. Yes, he’s one of the finest, but hundreds of players have left West Ham over the years. 

I don’t remember seeing a farewell video for the likes of Manuel Lanzini, who’s provided us with some amazing moments in a West Ham shirt. Now, I am aware that this all sounds quite negative. I think that part of the reason for my negativity is my jealousy. 

I am jealous that Arsenal can spend all of that money and poach our best player, something that we would struggle to do with another club – even with the cash burning a hole in our pocket. Let’s face it, clubs know we’ve got that money now and so will make sure that they set their pricing accordingly.

Declan Rice will go on to win trophies. I’m not convinced he’ll necessarily win many of them with Arsenal – I really do find it hard to see them winning a Premier League with some very strong competition, although the cups might be a better bet. On his side, though, he’s got a long time to run in his career. He’s also the best English midfielder.

He won’t want to be in the same position as someone like Harry Kane, scoring goals for fun and winning nothing. He’ll make sure that he puts himself in the best possible position for avoiding that, which I think might mean another club eventually.

Who knows, in 10 years’ time, he might even come back to us, when we’re finally established as a club at the ‘next level’. And now, I’ll let you into a little secret. I said earlier that I’d switched the ‘I care about Declan Rice’ button to off. 

Well, the truth is, I am sad about Declan Rice leaving. I don’t believe there’s a single fan out there who isn’t. Yes, we can bang on about the money, the agents, the player, the club, the desire for trophies, the fact that it’s outrageous that he goes to a rival club to try and do that.

We can say that he’s dead to us, or that we wish he was still here, or be completely ambivalent. I would say, no matter what emotions you’ve experienced, this has all made you end up feeling quite sad in some way. However, what you’re actually sad about, is quite another thing.

If you’re not sad about Rice leaving, you’re sad about the confirmation that this means West Ham’s best players are always in the shop window for bigger teams. You’re sad because it means that in your mind, our club’s status is a little bit reduced. 

You’re sad because his departure might mean that we won’t be as good next season. We might struggle domestically and in Europe, and then what? Another relegation battle? That would be enough to make anyone sad.

We were all upset when Dimitri Payet left us. That left a bit of an emotional wound. Declan Rice’s departure is similar. But, hundreds of players have left us in our history, and each time the club has recovered and moved on. It will be the same this time.

What might be harder to manage though, is that with this sale comes the loss of an identity that was just starting to form. Here was a football team with some quality players, led by an inspirational midfielder.

He’s gone now, because he didn’t want to stay, and he didn’t want to stay because he could not see us winning major trophies. In my mind, in recent years West Ham’s status has been elevated, and this sale has been a bit of a reality check. 

Let’s face it, top players do not see us as a team that will win trophies. Now, I can live with that, and I can live with Declan Rice leaving. What I find harder to bear is the saga’s significance. We’re West Ham fans, and as we enter the new season, we will have to continue to embrace the highs and the lows.

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