Declan Rice has the potential to be one of the true greats of the English game

But I’ll have my eyes closed rather than watch him celebrate when he inevitably scores against us

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

The sale of Declan Rice has left West Ham’s pockets significantly fuller – but it’s left quite a large empty space in the squad and on the pitch.

So what’s the true cost to us for selling our star – and how do we begin to fix the hole before the rain gets in? Declan Rice’s key contribution to West Ham was an incredible amount of skill. The driven and determined midfielder was one of the most skillful and talented players to ever pull on a shirt for West Ham.

He’s a phenomenal tackler and reads the game with an expertise and confidence that belies his mere 24 years on this earth. We will miss that skill set. Declan has been vital in our wins, but also in mostly keeping our losses to a respectable deficit. 

His interceptions changed games. He’s so quick to recover a ball and play it forward – and when there’s no player to pass to, he’s happy to lead the charge himself. He’s scored some fantastic goals for West Ham, showing how well-rounded he is as a player. We’ll miss him in every part of the pitch.

A player like Declan leaves big shoes to fill – and in a case like his, with a £105 million price tag, it’s likely that it will take several feet to fill the shoes. In theory, we could look at three £30 million players to help plug this gap, but we do also have some potential for the future in Flynn Downes. 

If rumours are to be believed, the midfielder (also 24) has turned down a move to Southampton as part of a deal for James Ward-Prowse, preferring to fight for his spot in east London. It’s an admirable show of determination for Downes, but he’ll need to find a way to get regular starting time to prove his worth to the Irons.

We’ve not been linked with enough potential replacements for Rice – and in fact the club are leaving their transfer business until quite late in the day at this stage, given we play our first Premier League game soon. One player who may get more of a chance to shine is our very own Tomas Soucek, who, after a dynamic and powerful first season, has seemed lost and out of place on the pitch with Rice in a more forward-driving role.

We may get our original Soucek back this season – which is arguably as good as signing a brand new player. Another area for change will be at the helm, as Rice leaves the captain’s armband behind him as he departs.

Aaron Cresswell is an experienced senior player who often takes over for Rice, but at the time of writing, he’s looking likely to reunite with former teammate Craig Dawson at Wolves. Angelo Ogbonna is a strong leader, but his days of playing regularly are trailing off. Nayef Aguerd has potential – but does he have experience? 

Afterall, as much as Rice did to lead on and off the pitch, this is one area where picking a young and inexperienced player for captain wasn’t as much of a clear-cut success. There’s no doubt Rice encouraged and motivated his teammates – they won a major European trophy to prove it, but Rice didn’t always lead by example when it came to temperament or positive attitude.

When things weren’t going our way, the head went down as the arms went out, the body language was defeatist, and Rice lacked the ability to keep calm on the pitch. He’d argue and whine at refs, moan at teammates, and often seemed to be an instigator for drama rather than the cool and level head required for a leader and the sole Hammer allowed to liaise with the officials on the pitch.

Very few of us would have the composure at 24 to be a captain of a Premier League club, and although this is an area we have the potential to strengthen post-Rice, it’s an area he will almost certainly strengthen for himself as he grows and develops in his career. Declan has a lot of potential – we got the best of his early years, but it’s scary to think how good he could get and how far he could go at a well-run club that’s willing to play to his strengths and push him to compete with better players and against better players.

His continued success is our Academy’s continued success; but he will not be a player who looks back, and I’m afraid I’ll have my eyes closed rather than watch him celebrate when he inevitably scores against us. He has the potential to be one of the true greats of the English game; I just wish he could have done it all while in claret and blue.

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