Declan Rice’s FA Cup heroics once again underlined why he is one of the most in-demand talents in Europe right now and why Manchester United need him more than most. West Ham manager David Moyes may well be demanding “humongous money” for the midfielder’s services, but the Red Devils need to bite the bullet. It’s a price they simply have to pay for their previous transfer blunders.
With the Hammers heading for an almighty FA Cup upset at the hands of lowly Kidderminster Harriers on Saturday, Moyes’ men were in need of something – or someone – special. Step forward Rice.
Entering the fray at the half-time interval, the 22-year-old was tasked with dragging West Ham out of the mire and, while he left it late, the versatile midfielder duly delivered.
As the match entered injury time, Rice laid the ball out wide before surging into the space and receiving the return.
Displaying unrivalled drive and determination, the midfielder then jinked inside before smashing the ball past hapless Kiddy keeper Luke Simpson to send the adoring away fans into raptures.
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It was a moment of FA Cup magic, but also an instance of play which is becoming a familiar feature of Rice’s ever-impressive repertoire.
Time and time again Rice is showing he can take a game by the scruff of its neck and turn it on its head. It’s no wonder he’s drawing comparisons to the great Steven Gerrard.
The heartbeat of this Hammers side, Rice has shaken off the ill-judged opinion that his preference is to play it safe and sideways, instead continuing his emergence as an all-conquering midfielder who isn’t afraid to take a risk.
He is, quite simply, everything a different kind of United are lacking in the centre of the park – the United up in Manchester.
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The Red Devils’ midfield woes have been well-documented in recent times and while reinforcements in that area are sure to arrive come the summer, there is only one player the Old Trafford outfit should be considering: the jewel in West Ham’s crown.
Paul Pogba was supposed to the man to fill said midfield void, but as he edges ever closer to turning his back on United for a second time, the club must resign themselves to the fact his £89million homecoming just hasn’t worked.
Hours prior to Rice’s stand-out cameo, Ralf Rangnick’s United succumbed to Championship side Middlesbrough on penalties, in Pogba’s return to action, as no hero stepped forth.
In the wake of Rice’s latest masterclass and amid speculation surrounding a move to United or a return to Chelsea – to his beloved boyhood Blues – Moyes was quick to deter potential suitors from considering an approach for West Ham’s FA Cup saviour.
“I can’t stop that, except say to them that you will need humongous money to get close,” the Scot said of the recent transfer talk involving Rice.
“That’s what you would need to do. They can write all they like, but he’s here for certainly a few years.
“I said in the summer that I thought Declan Rice was [worth] £100m. That was the sales, that was cheap, that was your chance to get Declan Rice cheap. You can make your mind up what I’m talking about.
“There’s very few people like him out there. It’s like buying something that there isn’t many of them.
“He is a special, special edition, a special player and for me he is probably the best midfield player in Europe at this present time.”
Though United have already splashed the cash to the nth degree since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in pursuit of returning to the glory days of yesteryear, their efforts have been in vain.
And while it may take a bank-breaking offer to lure the Hammers’ prised asset away from west London, Moyes is right: Rice is unique.
United must accept the mistakes that have gone before and go all out to add him to their ranks.
After all, his signing would appear to be less of a gamble and more a guarantee of success.