Zabaleta: Declan Rice will be a future West Ham United captain
The experienced Argentinian, a two-time Premier League champion and FIFA World Cup runner-up, knows a thing or two about how to identify leaders, and he believes his teenage teammate has the credentials to wear the armband in years to come.
The unlikely pair have combined to superb effect on a number of occasions this season, most recently in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea, where Rice produced an assured performance against the likes of Belgium playmaker Eden Hazard and Spain centre forward Alvaro Morata.
I can’t believe that Declan is that young yet he is very mature and he is improving game after game
“Decs has been fantastic,” Zabaleta, who was also hugely impressive at right wing-back at Stamford Bridge. “It’s fantastic to see him play at that level and he’s only 19.
“I can’t believe that he is that young yet he is very mature and he is improving game after game. I love when I see young players from the Academy come through and playing that well.
“I like to have him next to me because he is young and he has that energy to play and do some of the running. I hope I can help him and teach him how to defend.
“Listen this guy has a great future for this Club. He will be a future captain for West Ham, I am sure about this. I am very pleased for him.”
Rice, who has totalled 25 first-team appearances this season, previously captained West Ham’s U23s to promotion to Premier League 2 Division 1 a year ago.
Zabaleta also had words of praise for his other defensive colleagues after West Ham followed up their 3-0 home win over Southampton with a resilient showing in west London.
The Hammers ceded possession and territory to Chelsea, and allowed 23 goal attempts, but their defensive efforts meant six were blocked, eleven missed the target and five were superbly saved by goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Rice led the way with five clearances and three interceptions, while Zabaleta, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaaron Cresswell, Arthur Masuaku and substitute Patrice Evra all made vital contributions to blunt the Blues attack in the final third.
“I’m very pleased with the performance from the backline, the three at the back and the two wing backs,” Zabaleta confirmed. “We worked really hard during the whole game to stop their front three because they have really good players upfront – Hazard, Willian, Morata, then Giroud came on and with Alonso on one side and Moses on the other side they also have pace.
“So, given that, I thought we were really good defensively and really solid.”