England international Declan Rice looks set to be used as the catalyst to spark West Ham’s squad overhaul once the transfer window re-opens.
The Hammers are struggling with cash flow issues posed by the Coronavirus pandemic and reluctantly accept that Rice is the prize asset at the club.
Both Chelsea and Manchester United are linked with a £70m move for the midfielder.
The 21-year-old has played seven times for the senior England squad since pledging his allegiance in early March 2019, having previously played in three friendly games for the Republic of Ireland.
Where could he go?
Rice joined Chelsea as a nine-year-old but was released aged 14 in what he described as a “major shock”.
Now the Blues could look to re-sign the defensive midfielder as competition for emerging young Scot Billy Gilmour.
Manager Frank Lampard has made it no secret that he wants to work with young players, and while N’Golo Kante and Jorginho both remain at the club, there have been rumours that they could depart as part of Chelsea’s own reshuffling.
Manchester United have meanwhile made it no secret that they want to sign young British players; after the captures of Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James last summer.
Ahead of the next transfer window opening, the club is now heavily linked with England and Borussia Dortmund wonderkid Jadon Sancho.
With Paul Pogba’s future uncertain, there is a space for Rice alongside the ever-improving Fred in manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s midfield – with Nemanja Matic restricted to just 22 appearances this term.
Journey to become a midfielder
English-born Rice made his West Ham debut as a defensive midfielder in the last minute as a sub at Burnley on the final day of the 2016/17 season.
Slaven Bilic was in charge, and the Croat continued to deploy Rice in a more advanced role up until his departure on November 6th 2017.
However, after new manager David Moyes was appointed, Rice eventually played 26 Premier League games in 2017/18 – with 15 of them coming as a centre-back.
But towards the end of the season, the then 18-year-old ducked under the ball which allowed Arsenal to score and open the floodgates as the home side ran out 4-1 winners.
Moyes gave him a “grilling” in the dressing room, but it was exactly the type of set-back which the youngster needed to bounce back from.
Are there any question marks about Rice?
West Ham fans don’t have too much to thank Manuel Pellegrini for, but his commitment to playing Rice as a holding midfielder has enabled him to develop into a full international.
In the past two seasons, Rice has played all 63 games as a defensive midfielder, including every minute of this current season.
Despite his side’s struggles this season, Rice has been the shining light with the second-highest stats in the league for distance covered, interceptions and possession won in the middle third.
Having now played 100 times for the Irons, whoever signs the 21-year-old will be getting an experienced full international, with plenty of scope to develop even more.