Welcome to the latest series from everyone’s favorite, Brace The Hammer. Over 20 writers ranked 32 youth players (21 and under) for West Ham United. We ranked them by assigning each player a max of 20 points, down to 1. The top 15 averages made our list.
Every day, leading up to the start of the season, we will be bringing to you our top fifteen youth academy prospects for West Ham United. Breaking our top five, Declan Rice.
After being released by Chelsea at the age of 14 years old, Declan Rice trained with West Ham United and Fulham, eventually signing for the Hammers. Fast forward to December 2015, where Declan put pen to paper on a two year scholarship. It didn’t take very long for Rice to make an impact and after only 6 months into scholarship, he was rewarded for his fine form by breaking into the development squad with a 3 year deal just after picking up the Dylan Tombides award.
In the summer of 2016, Terry Wesltey named Rice his captain for the upcoming campaign while he became one of the first names on the team sheet. His manager described him as 'possibly the best player in the league this year' and while you don't wish to put too much pressure on his shoulders, Terry has stated:
'Declan Rice is an immense captain and an immense leader and he's going to have a huge future in the game, that I am sure about'.
The praise works both ways however as the 18 year old is quick to state how big an influence Westley is to him, and the same goes for ex-Hammer, Matthew Upson. He has been the Irishman’s mentor for the past season as he captained the U23 side to promotion.
June saw Rice called up to Martin O'Neils senior squad for Ireland after winning Irelands U17 player of the year award and after making his debut for West Ham United at Turf Moor, in the final game of the 2016/17 season. He has probably been the player that has more than likely clinched his chance while on tour this summer.
As Slaven Bilic included a few youngsters in the squad, Declan was the one who didn't look out of place in any way while partnering the likes of Angelo Ogbonna & James Collins at the back. And when Slav played him in front of the defence, a role which he can play due to his reading of the game and his communication, he did his reputation no harm with the faithful.
He seems keen to go out on loan and gain more experience but most fans would like to see him remain among the first team. With Burke and Oxford already loaned out, he is a player we can certainly get excited about seeing in the future. Personally, there was a header he got on in pre season, something so little, but a high ball dropped down, an opponent was closing in quickly on Declan, yet he remained composed and headed it 20 yards out to Aaron Cresswell. That alone, for me, certainly highlighted this kid's talents and, while we may not see much of him next season, I don't think it is unreasonable to be excited. Declan Rice, a name to remember and a player to watch.