With his place on the plane to Qatar as part of Gareth Southgate’s England squad already assured bar any unfortunate setbacks, Declan Rice is relishing Friday’s 2022 FIFA World Cup draw.
West Ham United’s 23-year-old midfielder has become an integral part of his national side since making his debut in a 5-0 UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying win over the Czech Republic at Wembley in March 2019.
Since then, Rice has earned 29 senior caps and finished on the losing side on just five occasions, helping the Three Lions reach the 2019 UEFA Nations League finals, finish as runners-up to Italy with a series of outstanding performances at Euro 2020, and qualify unbeaten for this year’s World Cup finals.
Taking the hot weather conditions in the Middle East into account, the tournament will take place in November and December, but the draw will be held at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center this Friday 1 April from 5pm BST.
And Rice, who was recently tipped to become a future national-team captain by Southgate, is looking forward to the draw, with England certain to be one of the eight teams – hosts Qatar and the top seven in the FIFA World Rankings – placed in pot 1.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a member of the senior England squad for three years now and I’ve already had plenty of highs and lows in that time.
Obviously, the high was of course the summer [and playing at Euro 2020], but the disappointment of losing the final will haunt me forever. But we also had some unbelievable highs, and just the whole route to the final, especially beating Germany, was special.
It's been an up and down journey and at the start it was really tough because I was a younger player just finding my feet. I made some mistakes, but of course that's just part and parcel and you need to do that in order to learn and I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.
At the start of my England career, I just found the level of players I was playing with [high] and the training was really tough.
It’s not that I couldn't cope or anything, but it was just it was another level in games and in competitions.
I remember we played Kosovo in Southampton [in a Euro 2020 qualifier in September 2019] and were 5-0 up and I passed the ball to one of the opposition and they went and scored – just with things like that, I was learning, but also it was one of the most disappointing moments in my career.
Now it's stood me in good stead and I feel like I know where I am now in the team. I know my role and what the manager requires of me and I feel like an important player.
I feel more comfortable in our squad and I can honestly say now that, because we’ve got so many top players who can come on and change the game at any time.
I feel the main thing for me is that I’ve grown more and more in confidence every time I’ve played for England.
Of course, I'm still only 23 and I'm still learning from the top players.
When I look at Jordan Henderson, he’s 31 now and I look at what he’s won and he’s still playing for England at a high level and that’s what I want to be doing.
Of course, you can see yourself as a big player, but when you’re with England there are so many players that I’m just delighted to be picked.
Everyone watches England – every coach at every club in the world – so every time you put on the shirt you want to put on a show.
The scrutiny on me and how I play definitely feels different now and I feel like every [England] player knows that.
I feel like we felt that in the summer, with the support we got from the country which was so special, and we get stopped in the street by fans all across the world, so you definitely that pressure when you’re playing for England when you're being watched.
I've always had that confidence and it was a case of just putting it into place.
I know I've always had the ability but, like I said, confidence is the biggest thing in football and when you've got that confidence you can go and perform. I feel like, when I went back to West Ham, I just had that mentality that ‘I've done it on a big stage now, so I can go back and do this in the Premier League now’.
This season, I've not even thought too much about it. It just feels like it's come naturally and I've just tried to do the best I can every game, and whether that goes wrong or right, I’ve always had that mentality to go into every game and try and perform to my best.
I think the biggest development in my game is just knowing the ability that I've got and actually putting into practice on the pitch.
I’m driving forward with the ball a lot more now and that’s been the biggest change. I've always had that. I've always had that in me, but it was just that under David Moyes the first time he had me playing at centre-back and Manuel Pellegrini used me as just the one holding midfielder.
Obviously now I’m in a two with Tomáš Souček, so it allows me to go forward much more as well and I feel it’s just that I know my ability when I am receiving the ball, that I can drive the team up the pitch and try and create things and make things happen as well, as well as getting back and doing my defensive duties.
The manager has said keeping the ball better is the next step for us as an England side.
In the Euro 2020 final, we probably lost possession in the final third against Italy when we had probably dominated possession the whole tournament.
Obviously, the way we play at England is so much different to at my Club. David Moyes and Gareth Southgate obviously have two different approaches to how they see the game.
Every manager has a different style and you have to adapt to that straight away. Obviously Gareth likes to build from the back and play out and play through the thirds and advance the ball quickly, whereas David is more direct, we sit in shape and we counter-attack teams.
For me, I’m lucky I’ve obviously got two top managers and I can fluctuate between the two and it’s good to learn from them.
I feel like the best player in the world in the world at receiving the ball under pressure is one who has been there for years: Sergio Busquets.
You saw him at the Euros at the summer and how he has been doing it at Barcelona. The way he controls the game... he doesn’t leave the centre-circle and everything goes through him and he always knows his next pass.
When you're in a position going up against him, you can stick a No10 on him, but then he’ll move away and be unselfish to create stuff for another No8, and by the time the ball has gone into the No8, he would have moved and then he's free again. So, he's constantly on the move, constantly checking his shoulder because he knows where to play one- or two-touch.
Of course, there are a lot of players in the Premier League as well who can do that.
It was special to read that Gareth said I could be a potential England captain in the future.
It was a lovely thing to hear but of course, there is always that element that it hasn’t happened yet and we have a great captain in Harry Kane, who is a top guy and whom we trust. We're heading in the right direction, so for me to be considered in that conversation, it's really nice to hear.
Of course, I feel like if you asked all the captains of their clubs in the squad if they want to captain England, everyone would say ‘yes’ as you can’t get a bigger honour in football.
So, maybe one day that can happen, but at the moment Harry is doing a great job for us, and everyone in the group is a leader in their own way.
I don't even see being compared to Bobby Moore as pressure as it's nice to be compared to top players.
Bobby was one-of-a-kind, so I’m going to have to win a World Cup! Hopefully we can do it. That’s the aim!
We’ve made a Nations League semi-final, a World Cup semi-final and a Euros final, and we want to go one more now and have that mentality to go and finish off a top tournament.
We’re looking forward to the draw on Friday.
As players, I feel like we’re all playing to a top level and we’re an established side now.
We’ve been building something special for a couple of years now and come the World Cup, I think everybody is excited and has the mentality and focus to go as far as we can.