West Ham United’s Declan Rice has dismissed speculation linking him with a move to Manchester United, insisting he is fully focused on life in East London.
Rice, 20, has flourished since rising to first-team prominence with the Hammers, starting 33 of their 38 Premier League matches in 2018/19 alongside scoring two goals.
The defensive midfielder was thrust into a storm of media scrutiny earlier this year when he declared his international allegiance for England having appeared for Ireland from U16 to U21 level as well as making three appearances for the senior team in friendlies.
Rice’s decision to declare for England may have caused many 20-year-old players to struggle under the spotlight, but the West Ham academy-product has shone with his new-found responsibility in Manuel Pellegrini’s side.
For Rice, however, speculation linking him with a move to one of England’s big-six, notably Manchester United, is not distracting him from the task of establishing a starting berth for West Ham alongside breaking into the first-team under Gareth Southgate for the England seniors.
“I know that there’s speculation but I signed a five-year contract with West Ham during the season,” said Rice. “So my focus is fully on playing for West Ham. I’ve got a great connection with the fans; the fans love me and I love them and that’s the way it is at the moment. I’m not thinking about anything else, for sure.”
Rice’s inclusion in the Nations League squad to play the Netherlands next month will see the midfielder come up against some of Europe’s finest and most in-form talent, including Frenkie de Jong who is set to join Barcelona, and the prospect of competing against world-class talent is a challenge Rice is relishing.
“Yes, definitely, I want that,” said Rice. “He’s a top player and I think you’ve seen that in the Champions League. When you start out in football you always want to play at the top. You want to play in the Champions League. If you were in football and you didn’t want to do that there would be no point playing. De Jong has got his move to Barcelona and it’s fully deserved. It would be great to come up against him in the Nations League.”
Rice also fully recognises the potential importance of the Nations League in the grand scheme of Southgate’s reign as England manager, as the Three Lions bid to build on a highly successful World Cup in Russia and prepare for Euro 2020.
‘I think it’s massive. It’s really important,” continued Rice. “We’ve got ourselves into the semi-final. We’ve got a massive chance now to create history. With the squad Gareth has put together, with the players that we have, for sure we’ve got to be looking at the Nations League and winning it. It would stand us in good stead for the future and the Euros next year and the World Cup after that.”