Rice's 'crazy day' caps rewarding Chelsea return
Five seasons ago, Declan Rice was playing Academy football for Chelsea, only for the Blues to release him at the age of 14.
The schoolboy was initially left 'deflated', his dream of playing for the club his family supported shattered, but within 48 hours he had been snapped up by West Ham United - and the rest is history.
Rice's redemption story went full circle on Sunday, when the 19-year-old played a starring role against his old club at Stamford Bridge, helping the Hammers win a heard-earned Premier League point.
Released by Chelsea at 14.. 5 years later start against them & put in a fantastic team performance❤⚒ fans were different class too. joe hart👏👏! We keep pushing until the end #COYI pic.twitter.com/UYr8CQBL4r— Declan Rice (@_DeclanRice) April 8, 2018
“I’ve come back here after being released by Chelsea at 14 and five years later I’m playing for West Ham in the Premier League,” said Rice, who has made 25 first-team appearances since debuting at Burnley on the final day of last season. “Sunday was a crazy day and one which me and my family are very proud of.
"Coming to Chelsea games as a kid, joining the club at seven and being released at 14, I don't think I need to prove anything, but today I felt I came back and made a statement and I was happy with my performance."
The 19-year-old still has many friends at Chelsea and regularly meets up with former Blues captain John Terry to discuss his career and life paths.
And with his family, who hail from nearby Kingston-upon-Thames and many of whom are Chelsea supporters, watching on from the stands, Rice showed all the composure and ability that have already marked him out as one of the Premier League’s top prospects.
Playing alongside his experienced defensive colleagues and goalkeeper Joe Hart, who produced his best display for the Hammers, the 19-year-old relished the opportunity to show his old club what they had missed out on.
Sunday was a crazy day and one which me and my family are very proud of
“Joe was outstanding and I thought Angelo, Cressy, Patrice, Arthur and myself were excellent as well,” he observed. “In the second half, when we had the chance to put pressure on their defence, they started to crumble a little bit and obviously Arnie potentially could have had a penalty too.
“On the day, we had a game plan and we stuck to it. We came out with a point and that’s massive for us going into the final six games of the season.
“It’s all about learning. I’d watched clips and obviously I know how Eden Hazard plays and how Willian plays, but you can’t really tell off a video until you face them in real life as you come up against different challenges.
“They played a few tricky one-twos and they did get in a couple of times, but in the second half we started to suss it out. It’s only going to help me build as a player, going up against these types of world class players.”
West Ham could easily have crumbled themselves after falling behind to Cesar Aziplicueta’s close-range finish nine minutes before half-time, but instead came out after the break with the resolve and determination to grab a share of the spoils, at least.
And their reward came with 17 minutes remaining, when substitute Chicharito swept Marko Arnautovic’s cut-back into the bottom corner, sparking wild celebrations both on the pitch and among the 3,000-strong Claret and Blue Army.
“If you let your heads go down against these sorts of players, you’re going to be four or five-nil down. The goal was a scrappy one to concede from a set piece and that was disappointing as we’d worked on them during the week, but we kept at it, kept going and we knew we’d get a chance.
“Arnie had one in the first half and then Chicha came on and made a great difference, held the ball up well and stuck it away. He was excellent when he came on.
“Arnie got in around the back and set it back for him and Chicha, with his striker’s instinct, has pulled off and he’s found a great finish into the corner past a few bodies and the West Ham fans went crazy.
“Two seasons I was in the away end celebrating with them, but this time I was out there playing, so it was a special moment.”
We’ve just got to push on and get the results
West Ham have now picked up four points from two matches and sit 14th in the table with six matches remaining, the next of which sees Stoke City – seven points below the Hammers on 27 – visit London Stadium on Monday 16 April.
“We won’t be able to relax, but if we beat Stoke we’ll be in a good position. We’ve still got some really tough games towards end of the season, but three points against Stoke will be crucial.
“We’ve just got to push on and get the results.”