Declan Rice: There are no limits to what we can do as a team
It seems strange to think that Declan Rice will turn 23-years-old in just over a week’s time.
The midfielder retains the effervescent energy of the 18-year-old who burst onto the scene against Burnley on the final day of the 2016/17 season: the character, the humour and the spark which make him such a popular figure among teammates, supporters and even neutral fans alike.
Yet, at the same time, Rice seems to grow, mature and progress with every passing week, having already developed so much from that same sprightly 18-year-old debutant.
Rice is now not only a regular with the West Ham United captain’s armband, but also a rare England international to have played in a major international tournament final; a natural-born leader; and a talented young man blessed with a winner’s mentality.
The midfielder attributes the strides his game has taken this season – influencing the side immeasurably whilst fulfilling a role more akin to a box-to-box midfielder – to the mind-set which has motivated that growth.
It’s like ‘I have got 90 minutes here, why am I going to hold myself back? Why am I going to limit myself?’
“That’s something that I have added to my game this season,” Rice noted. “You can’t play football without confidence.
“I have always had this ability in my mind, everyone’s always told me, but I have been adding to it, season on season, and I feel like this season I have matured, I have pretty much grown into a man now.
“I have been doing things that people obviously didn’t think I could do on a football pitch, but I have known myself I can do it. It’s just building the foundations to keep improving and getting better.
“My Dad always says it to me. When I step on the pitch, he says ‘what have you got to lose?’ And I have that mindset. It’s like ‘I have got 90 minutes here, why am I going to hold myself back? Why am I going to limit myself?’
“Now I am being compared to so many top players, and if you want to be a top player you need to be in the game all the time. I am thinking now that, when I go out on the football pitch, I am being constantly watched and I need to try and be the best player on the pitch every time I go out there.”
When it comes to identifying midfielders who can influence the players – and the very Club – around them, Rice could not ask for a better mentor.
“He’s such a good people person,” Rice says of Club captain Mark Noble.
“Honestly, if Nobes weren’t around, I don’t think I would have been as successful as I’ve been at West Ham.
“You can speak to him about anything and if I do something wrong, even in training, he will tell me straight away. It makes me think, ‘Wow, he’s still on me’.
“He teaches me how to be a good person around the place, how to be with the lads, and if anything needs to be said in the changing room, you’ve got to say it. I feel like I couldn’t have had anyone better to guide me through.”
It is a desire to learn which permeates throughout the squad, Rice adds: “That’s a part of why we’re doing so well as a team. We can take criticism.
“If you can’t give it out and take it you’re not going to learn. Even me, I like to be told because it keeps you on your toes.
“The biggest thing I’m doing is learning in-game. Against top opposition and top players I’m always learning and looking at how they play, seeing what they do.
“I always watch my clips back, looking at what I can improve, speaking to the assistants, speaking to the manager.
“On the training pitch, I’m just trying to improve, to test myself against the players in training and trying different things. Just chipping away at a load of stuff, that’s the best way you can get 100 per cent out of yourself.”
And as Rice as his team-mates continue to grow, so do the strength of their results – a fifth-place standing in the Premier League table, a table-topping first-ever UEFA Europa League group-stage and a run to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals already there to show for 2021/22.
... every time we play at home, we can feel that presence from the fans. We love playing in front of them
In a similar manner to Rice's earlier reasoning, the midfielder feels this West Ham United team sees no reason to limit itself in pursuit of Club history.
The 23-year-old observed: “I feel like we can achieve good things. We want the Champions League, that’s what everybody wants. I feel like top six is more of a bigger aim for us.
“We’ve gone for everything. We’ve rotated the squad as much as we can. There are so many positives to take and if we really look towards the European games coming up, when we’ll probably play a big side, I feel like we can really go far.
“We’re fifth in the league at the moment, we’re flying, and we’re into the knock-out rounds of the Europa League. There are lots of positives and every time we play at home, we can feel that presence from the fans. We love playing in front of them.
“There’s no limits to what we can do. We just need to stick together, keep doing what we do best and see where the season takes us.”