Declan Rice can become a better player than former West Ham United midfielder Javier Mascherano.
That is the considered view of Manuel Lanzini, who has played alongside both the Hammers’ rising star and the Argentina all-time great.
Rice has been earning rave reviews for his performances in the same deep-lying midfield position that Mascherano made his own during a storied career for both club and country.
And while Lanzini says his young West Ham teammate still has plenty of work to do to reach the same level as the man who won 147 international caps, five La Liga titles and two UEFA Champions League crowns, he believes the 20-year-old has the talent, character and ability to follow in his illustrious footsteps.
He is 20 and I think Declan needs to continue like this, if he stays focused and I think he can be better than Mascherano
“Declan for me is the hero of the team,” said the No10, who lined up alongside Mascherano for Argentina in a friendly against Haiti in May last year. “He is a very young player, but it is as if he has played 200 games. He is amazing.
“I like to play with him because he has good touch, he has good recovery, I think he is one of the best players in the Premier League.
“He is [like Javier Mascherano]. I played with Mascherano and he is a very good player. He is 20 and I think Declan needs to continue like this, if he stays focused and I think he can be better than Mascherano.”
Lanzini himself has made an impressive comeback from injury in recent weeks, showing no ill-effects from the knee surgery he underwent last summer in the three Premier League appearances he has made since his return.
And, having helped the Hammers to victories over Fulham and Newcastle United which closed the gap on the Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford to four points with nine matches still to play, the 26-year-old believes a top-seven finish is still achievable.
“I am feeling good now, I am feeling happy,” he confirmed. “It was a long injury, it was eight months and it was difficult at the time, but now I am feeling good and I am close to being 100 per cent, so I am happy about that.
“The knee is strong. I don’t have any swelling which is good and, of course, I do feel nervous to play again as it has been a long time. The first 90 minutes [since my injury was against Newcastle] and I was nervous but now I am feeling happy.
“I think seventh place is possible, it is only four points between us. In the Premier League, anything is possible, and the ultimate is to finish in the seventh position.”