What a Year it Has been for Declan Rice
Declan Rice ended 2022 on a sad note, as he played 90 minutes for England losing to France in the quarterfinal of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Rice returned to the Premier League with West Ham, visiting the Emirates, and ended up on the losing side, and the streak continued with another loss to Brentford.
January 2023 came around the corner and Rice was heavily linked with a move to Arsenal and other potential suitors, but the West Ham captain made it clear that he was not going to leave the club in the winter transfer window, with the club still in the UEFA Conference League and still languishing in the relegation places in the Premier League. West Ham finished January with two wins (Everton – Premier League and Brentford – FA Cup), one draw (Leeds) and three defeats (Arsenal, Brentford and Wolves).
February started on a good note for West Ham with a routine FA Cup Fourth Round win over Derby County but the inconsistent Premier League form was on show, with the only win coming against Nottingham Forest, while West Ham drew with Chelsea and Newcastle, then lost to Tottenham, and as expected, Rice played 90 minutes in all these games. AEK Lamaca came to town in the Knockout Round of 16 in the Conference League, and Rice led West Ham to double legged victories over the Cypriot side. Rice switched allegiances to England, playing 180 minutes in the consecutive wins in the Euro qualifiers against Ukraine and Italy.
In April, West Ham had a Conference League quarterfinal clash with Gent, and Rice got in on the scoring act, as the Hammers ran out as 5-2 winners on aggregate. Rice also played a role in derailing Arsenal’s title challenge in the same month, winning the ball from Thomas Partey and feeding Jarrod Bowen who was scythed down by Gabriel in the box, as West Ham drew 2-2 with Arsenal. Despite their consistent struggles in the Premier League, West Ham continued to soar in the UEFA Conference League and Rice put up superb performances in the semifinals against AZ Alkmaar.
The West Ham captain scored what proved to be his last goal for West Ham in the 3-1 victory over Leeds that all but secured their Premier League status, and all focus was moved to the UEFA Conference League finals against Fiorentina. Rice played very well in that finals, and Bowen’s goal put West Ham in the history books, and Rice lifted the club’s first trophy since their FA Cup victory over Arsenal in 1980.
Rice was named as the UEFA Conference League Player of the Season, and rightly earned a place in the Team of the Season. The summer came around and Rice completed his big-money transfer to Arsenal for a whopping £105m. His performances at Arsenal have been exemplary, earning him the August Player of the Month award, which was well deserved.
The good times keep rolling for Rice, as he has been shortlisted by FIFA for the Best Men’s Player award. He has been rightly recognized for his performances in the UEFA Conference League triumph and his time with England, where he played a key role in their World Cup exertions. Rice is the only English player to make the list, and there are six other Premier League players in the 12-man shortlist – Julian Alvarez, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Erling Haaland, Rodri and Bernardo Silva, all instrumental players to Manchester City’s treble winning campaign. The players outside the Premier League to make the cut were Marcelo Brozovic (Inter Milan/Al Nassr), Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Napoli), Victor Osimhen (Napoli), Kylian Mbappe (PSG) and Lionel Messi (PSG/Inter Miami).
Rice is in good company and I’d love to see where he ends on the final list.
It’s been an amazing year for Declan Rice. Long may it continue.
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