'It’s a dream come true!' - Declan Rice's West Ham United debut on this day in 2017
Declan Rice capped a memorable 2016/17 season by making his first-team debut for West Ham United in a 2-1 Premier League win at Burnley on this day three years ago.
Rice was rewarded for a hugely promising campaign when Slaven Bilic sent him on for the closing stages of the Hammers’ final-day victory at Turf Moor – becoming the 923rd player to pull on a West Ham shirt in the process.
Having also captained the U23s to promotion to Premier League 2 Division 1, a debut capped a memorable seasonfor Rice, whose side secured victory through goals from Sofiane Feghouli and Andre Ayew.
Ever since I started kicking a ball, it has always been my ambition [to play in the Premier League], so my dream has come true and I’m delighted
“It’s a dream come true,” the then-18-year-old told West Ham TV after the game. “Ever since I started kicking a ball, it has always been my ambition [to play in the Premier League], so my dream has come true and I’m delighted.
“You’ve always got to be ready when you’re on the bench as you never know when you’re going to get the call. It could have been Dom [Quina] or Mo [Makasi] but luckily enough I was the one who got the call and got on the pitch and did alright!”
While he had long been rated by Academy staff, Rice developed quickly during the 2016/17 season, having first caught the eye during West Ham’s tour to the United States in summer 2016.
Back then, he vowed to remain calm and composed and continue to work hard towards his ultimate goal of becoming a first-team regular...
“To be fair, my feet are always on the ground,” he confirmed. “I know today is only a tiny step in my career, so I’ve just got to keep focused and keep on a good path with the coaches around me and I’m sure I’ll go far.
“Every day you’ve got give 100 per cent in training and in matches. You’ve always got to improve and have people talking about you and keep working hard and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
As is always the case when one of their own make a first-team debut, Rice’s appearance was also a feather in the cap for everyone working at the Academy of Football.
His family were also at Turf Moor and were quick to congratulate him after the game.
“My phone hasn’t stopped ringing!” he smiled. “I just turned it on and have had so many messages already. The Academy are going to be so happy for me, and the same goes for my family as well.
“My family have been to every game I’ve been involved in on the bench and wouldn’t miss it for the world, so I’m so happy they have come up. Now it’s my time to pay them back, so I’m delighted.”
Three years on, it would be fair to say Rice’s initial ambitions have been fulfilled and he has more than paid back all those who invested in his future!