West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice has emerged as a real standout figure for the east London outfit in recent years, having grown from strength to strength since making his first-team debut just over five years ago.
Now captain of the club as well as a leading asset for his country – for whom he now has 32 caps – the Englishman has enjoyed a remarkable rise over the past few seasons, with it perhaps easy to forget that he is still only 23 years of age.
While a player now routinely lauded for his commanding displays in the centre of the park, not all had perhaps foreseen his rapid development, with pundit Roy Keane notably criticising the youngster’s form while on England duty back in 2019.
“Where he needs to improve, there are plenty of aspects if you think about it. Over the last few months he has had a lot of praise, I worked with him while he was with the Ireland squad.
“Where does he need to improve, where do you want me to start? His positional play I don’t think is consistent enough, he doesn’t stay with runners, he’s sloppy in possession. I can go on.”
Never one to mince his words, the former Red Devils captain appeared to suggest that Rice still had a long way to go to be considered a real top-quality asset, albeit with the retired ace potentially holding a grudge over the younger man’s decision to swap his international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to the Three Lions.
That was the view of talkSPORT pundit Danny Murphy, who insisted that Keane had been “harsh” in his assessment of the 6 foot 1 gem, while also suggesting that a potential factor behind that criticism was the player’s decision to snub Ireland.
Rice has gone on to more than prove the United legend wrong since then, having only recently been dubbed “the best midfielder in the country” by pundit Paul Parker, after racking up 204 appearances for the London Stadium outfit.
The imposing “monster” – as dubbed by ESPN’s David Cartlidge – has impressed with his ability to drive forward from deep and help initiate attacks, showcased by the fact that he ranks in the top 14% among those in his position across Europe’s top five leagues for progressive carries.
An all-round asset who can also comfortably perform his defensive duties, the £60k-per-week ace also ranks in the top 3% for interceptions, with pundit Chris Sutton lauding his ability to ‘put out fires’ in front of the back four.
Such has been the Irons academy graduate’s form of late, he is now even valued at £70m, according to CIES Football Observatory, while manager David Moyes has perhaps ambitiously suggested that he could be worth as much as £150m – albeit with just under two years left on his current deal.
Now a player coveted by the Premier League’s elite, the one-time Chelsea youth asset has certainly made Keane eat his words over the past few years, with the pundit himself having only recently acknowledged his previous error by tipping the West Ham star for a move to Old Trafford.
If only the 51-year-old hadn’t been so critical back in 2019, he wouldn’t now be left with egg on his face.