A Fond Goodbye to Declan Rice

With the imminent news that West Ham captain Declan Rice is heading to Arsenal in a record £105m deal, it’s time to take a page from Roman Roy and pre-grieve for a beloved member of the Hammers family.

Growing up as a West Ham fan, it’s not unusual for our top talent to desire a move away from East London and regularly compete for silverware. We saw it with Frank Lampard, Jermain Defoe, and most recently with Dimitri Payet [not a youth product, but acrimonious nonetheless]. Somehow, with Rice, it tastes different.

declan rice europa conference league trophy
Trophies help

Rice came to West Ham after being released from the Chelsea youth team in 2014 at the age of 14 and joined the famed West Ham Academy. Of the latest crop of graduates like Ben Johnson, Grady Diangana, and Divin Mubama – Rice always seemed destined for greatness beyond the London Stadium.

He displayed leadership from a young age, captaining the West Ham U23 side that won promotion to Premier League 2 Division 1 before making his first-team debut in a 2-1 win against Burnley, making a one-minute cameo on 21 May, 2017. The 2017/18 season saw Rice make 26 appearances, mostly at centre-back. After a couple of poor performances and benchings, by the end of the season, he was firmly established in the first team under David Moyes.

declan rice debut vs burnley

By 2018/19, Rice had matured and was ever-present, anchoring the midfield in his now-familiar role. He established himself as a core member of the midfield engine room of the England national team under Gareth Southgate. He played in all seven matches as England finished runners-up at the Euros and was again integral to the England side that made it to the Quarter Finals of the 2022 World Cup.

Meanwhile, West Ham embarked on their most successful sustained period of league and European success with Rice entrenched in midfield, as David Moyes’ Massive Bastards reached the Semi-Final of the 2022 Europa League; before Aaron Cresswell’s unfortunate meltdown in the Semi Final against Eintracht Frankfurt. Rice was named in the 2021-22 UEFA Europa League Team of the Year.

west ham declan rice europa league semi final eintracht frankfurt

At the start of the 2023/24 season, Mark Noble hung up his boots after 550 games in claret and blue. Rice, then 23-years-old was the natural replacement for the captaincy. It was a typically turbulent season as West Ham battled relegation for the majority of the year, but the end was truly special as Hammers fans witnessed their captain lift their first major trophy in 43 years.

In the second year after the inception of the Europa Conference League, 20,000 West Ham supporters headed to Prague to witness a dramatic 2-1 victory against Fiorentina. Of course, we knew that this was likely to be Rice’s final game for the club, but it made the event no less special.

All West Ham fans have accepted long ago our reputation as a selling club, which probably dates back to when we sold Rio Ferdinand in 2000 and watched him win a slew of trophies at Manchester United. Over the years we said goodbye to Academy graduates Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Glen Johnson and Frank Lampard and bitterly watched their success.

With Rice it feels as though he’s paid his dues to West Ham, back in 2018, I was writing that the secret is out and big clubs might be circling for the then 19-year-old. After almost 250 appearances for the club, it is a bittersweet ending for Rice. At the close of each season of individual brilliance it felt inevitable that he would leave in the summer, it is surprising that he has taken this long to leave.

He exits as one of the great captains in West Ham’s history. Bobby Moore remains the Irons’ untouchable club legend, but Rice is the player who has achieved the most since Billy Bonds’ captained the team to lift the 1980 FA Cup trophy. Mark Noble had the longevity but sadly lacks any trophies, leaving Rice as the club’s greatest modern captain.

West Ham Europa Conference League Champions

With Rice in Arsenal’s side, I feel like they should be favourites for the 2023/24 Premier League title; and have the best chance to challenge Manchester City’s modern hegemony and attempt to win four back-to-back titles.

I am not alone in wishing him the best for the future, as he gave many more years beyond what was expected to the club. He rarely got injured and gave a fully committed performance the each time he wore the shirt. Even when it was clear that his future lay in North London, Rice remained classy, quietly communicating this desire to the club and being respectful in the media. 

I am happy that the protracted negotiations won’t drag into pre-season, giving West Ham plenty of time to figure out how to best squander the huge £105 million windfall coming their way.

Host of Culture Hash, writer of music, TV and film opinions

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