Interview | Declan Rice does not regret returning to Chelsea with West Ham
"It was the best decision I ever made"
When Sean Rice hung up the phone on a Tuesday afternoon and broke the news to his 14-year-old son Declan that Chelsea was not holding him, there was the feeling of desolation.
Later that evening, Declan Rice dusted off and trained in nearby Fulham. The following day, he traveled from his hometown of Kingston to Chadwell Heath in east London to try his luck at the West Ham Academy.
Tonight, Rice, now 20 years old and an England international, will be back on Stamford Bridge to play against his old club, while West Ham will be justifiably proud of another name added to the list Players who have emerged from their youth system years can be included.
"I've heard of the historic road in West Ham that you would get a chance if you were good enough," recalls Rice, sitting on a sofa next to Sir Trevor Brooking, another youth team product of the club £ 4million new Academy headquarters in Chadwell Heath. "They were also the best team my age when I left Chelsea," added Rice. "It was the best decision I've ever made."
In his earlier life, Chadwell Heath was the regular home of three English World Cup winners, Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst, and Martin Peters – and their paintings line the hallway walls, along with a large, framed photograph of Hurst, England's fourth goal – Third – In the final at Wembley along with a signed message: "A goal learned at Chadwell Heath. It's definitely over now !! "
"Everyone knows Chadwell Heath, it's historic," Rice said. "What the World Cup winners of West Ham have achieved is an inspiration for the following and should be for everyone. Their performance was incredible and everyone is still talking about it. If I could go ahead and do half of the stuff, that would be fantastic. "
Brooking, who served as FA Technical Development Director until 2014, was adequately impressed with England's recent England debut against the Czech Republic.
"I thought he did very well," he said. "It's a lot about the environment. I know Gareth very well and he is very personal, either individually or in group discussions. It's generally a young group, and even since the World Cup semi-finals last summer, things have changed a lot.
"Above all, Gareth has enormous freedom of choice. Nobody guarantees their place in the squad. I will not say that we will win this or that, but in the next decade we have the potential to be competitive. "Rice agrees. "I heard before I went, it's like a club environment, and when I got there, I could see it was," he said. "If you go to an England camp now, it feels like we can be the best and win things."
Rice has already been compared to Moore, but Brooking, who played in the same West Ham team as the big man, does not have all that.
"I would say every player has their own identity," he said. "What you need to be in the current game is flexible. Everyone, including goalkeepers, must be good with their feet. There are no margins, just to be okay – you have to be really good. "
As for Rice, who is already affiliated with other clubs, Brooking said, "You have the first six, then the middle six and West Ham. The club should be one of those who want to go back up, and to do that, we would like to keep Declan in the club because that's the core that's going on.
"There is really good quality in the squad now. If you could add something, the team would really knock on the door. We have to convince Declan and others that this club is visiting places.
"I'm just saying that you want the club to get on well enough for Declan to enjoy his football, he's on the English side and he sees that he's making progress, he wants to play European club football in the future, but he still has a lot to do learn to take him to the next stage. "
There is a warning from Brooking, which Rice expects as his profile continues to rise. The 20-year-old, who moved from the Republic of Ireland to England, already had a rehearsal when he had to apologize in 2015 for a social media post that seemed to support the IRA. Brooking believes "social media is the biggest challenge these days," and Rice has already paid attention.
"The stuff that went into deciding on Ireland or England was a lesson and I do not read it anymore," he said.
"People you troll want a reaction, and there's no point in doing that. I'm just trying to concentrate on my football. I am still the same person and would rather leave it that way. I'm just trying to stay on top and get better every day. "
West Ham has missed every opportunity to find the best seventh place, but Rice said: "We will push until the end of the season. This is the third time I have played against Chelsea, and I'm really looking forward to going to Stamford Bridge. "