Declan Rice is one of the Premier League’s most sought-after players, and the West Ham star can get even better.
The England midfielder has been a phenomenal servant for the Hammers and appears to have signed off his career at the London Stadium by helping them to their first trophy in 43 years in the Europa Conference League.
Rice leaving will break the hearts of everyone connected with West Ham, but there are no hard feelings with chairman David Sullivan admitting he will fulfil a promise made to the player and allow him to leave this summer.
Hammers coach Kevin Nolan told talkSPORT: “Mr Chairman said it, Dec has given everything to this club and he’s been phenomenal and our best player for the last three seasons by a country mile. He’s been the best player in the European competitions by a mile.
“Everyone at the club sort of knows it’s coming to an end. Do I want it to end? Not a chance in a million years.
“Knowing the kid, knowing his family and everybody around him but I know he’s sitting there thinking he loves West Ham and what he’s given and what they’ve given him but hand on heart he’s got to go and play in the Champions League week in, week out.
“I don’t want to lose him, I’d never want to lose him. The way he drives things every day in training…
“I’ll never say this lightly, he’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Steven Gerrard on a football pitch. In terms of all his key attributes and I feel there’s still loads still to unravel.
“I’m not saying he is Steven Gerrard but the way he can just glide past players – one minute he’s there, the next minute he’s gone. The way he can play a defensive role and then move into an attacking role, we haven’t seen that part of him yet.”
Rice has made the defensive midfield role his own both for club and country but a move to a bigger club, with Arsenal the most likely destination, could see him add new layers to his game.
talkSPORT’s Danny Murphy said: “I think he could be a really good no.8. I know Arsenal are in for him but I’m amazed Manchester City aren’t in for him.
“If they lose Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva, they are different players, but if you’re playing Rodri and adding Declan Rice and De Bruyne Declan will get you double figures for goals.
“He can score but he’s in a West Ham side where you have to do more defending than attacking.”
Asked if Rice can be an exceptional midfielder, Nolan said: “I certainly think he can play there and I think he’s got the quality to do it.
“Having played in the Premier League where I believe we had the best midfielders the Premier League has ever seen and I feel he’d fit in nicely into that era and that’s no disrespect to this era.”
Nolan added: “He knows what he’s got to do and when you speak to him you see he’s got a great football mind. He wants to do more, he wants to be on the ball more and I feel going to a top club he’s going to be able to have that. That’s when you’ll see all those key attributes come out.”
But there’s one area that both Nolan and Murphy believe Rice could show more of once he completes his move away.
Murphy said: “He’s brilliant physically. Getting about the pitch he can match anyone.
“But I watch him sometimes and he’s a bit nice to everyone. There’s this thing in football where everyone’s nice to each other.
“People like Stevie, like Lampard, Roy Keane, they were ruthless. Rice needs to be a bit more nasty, a bit more, ‘you’re not my mate. You might be after, but not today. And I’m going to rattle a few people, upset them’.
“That’s where you go to the next level.”
Nolan responded: “He’s definitely got it, the way he rattles a few of the lads in training… others haven’t seen it as much as I’ve seen it but he has got it. But I’d agree with Danny that he’s got to show it a bit more.
“He is a nice lad and he comes from a lovely family. That’s why I think he goes with everybody’s graces, we want to see this lad just flourish, go again and do it again.
“He’s given everything to West Ham and he’s not gone banging on the door saying, ‘I want to get out’, he’s not thrown his toys out of the pram, he’s been 8,9, 10/10 for us since I’ve walked in the door.”