Declan Rice steps forward as England's leader

Declan Rice steps forward as England’s leader

This anecdote is worth repeating since it makes people smile. Declan Rice meets John Stones at St George’s Park early last week for England’s Wembley friendlies against Brazil and Belgium. As everyone knows, Arsenal vs. Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday after the international break. Not everyone, though.

Declan Rice meets John Stones

Rice: “I said: ‘Big game next,’” John asked, ‘Who are you playing?’ I said, ‘We’ve got you lot!’ He answered, ‘Oh yeah.’ He had no idea they were playing us next! I get that he prefers to relax with his family when not playing football. One game at a time is his style.”

Kyle Walker, another City player from England, injured his hamstring in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Brazil and will miss Tuesday’s Belgium game, Rice says. Arsenal must consider Walker a doubt.

Kyle Walker, another City player from England

Rice says, “With Walks, he always has a little bit of banter, he’s a great lad but inside us, we know what a big game it is going to be, a potential title decider. It will be hard, but you must win to go over Arsenal being labeled as crap.

We must demonstrate steeliness and grit to become a top team. We know City is the best team in the world, but we’re certain we can win.”

Rice and stones

Rice, unlike Stones, is constantly focused on football, whether small or large. In a wider conversation, Rice reflects on his stratospheric rise and looks ahead to the Belgium encounter, where he will captain his country for the first time on his 50th cap at 25. Humor, ease of company. His self-confidence and drive.

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Rice made his England debut five years ago in a 5-0 win against the Czech Republic at Wembley, replacing Dele Alli from the bench. Since his £106m move to Arsenal last summer, the West Ham player has seen his career soar.

Declan Rice replaces Dele Alli

He won the Europa League last time with West Ham. Now he wants the Premier League and Champions League. The European Championship follows. He’s a squad leader for England. Since Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson, Walker, Harry Maguire, and Kieran Trippier are injured, he will lead.

Rice will become the seventh fastest England player to 50 caps, behind Raheem Sterling, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, and Marcus Rashford. He was reminded that he will overtake Sir Geoff Hurst’s 49 caps.

Rice calls the World Cup final hat-trick a classic of the game. We looked at caps and folks I’ve surpassed the other night. Feels unreal still. I remain Dec, a regular man.

“Gareth approached me on Sunday night about being captain. The setting was humorous. I watched the crew play ‘Wolf’ card game. It was hard to stare at Gareth. I was speechless. I stepped up, shook his hand, hugged him, and said, ‘Thank you so much.’”


The captains who impacted Rice are Mark Noble at West Ham and Kane and Henderson at England. “There is Martin Ødegaard at my club,” he says. “I’m not thinking about it, but if anything happens to him, I would love to lead Arsenal. I enjoy leading and captaining. A true honor.”

Rice contemplates his remarks before leading the team against Belgium. “That’s the worst bit!” he admits. H [Kane] always speaks, then Walks the other night against Brazil.

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Tripps, when he was captain, gave a funny speech that went wrong and had everyone laugh, so I know I’ll be under pressure. My message will be brief. Simply relaying texts has taught me a lot from Hendo. We must start fast and win.”

Since joining Arsenal, Rice has had problems. During the club’s pre-season tour of the US, he struggled in a friendly versus Manchester United. Demands were fresh. He continues, “It was another level of training, intensity.” I felt unfit. I wasn’t. It was entirely different training.”

Rice did his usual. He questioned management, watched additional videos, and probed deep. He feels he’s learnt a lot about his preferred No 6 role, where Southgate employs him, and how to play No 8. Jorginho, his midfield partner, has influenced him much.

Rice said Emile Smith Rowe told him, ‘I’m going to start calling Jorginho Tom Brady because his passing is mind-blowing.’

Rice has gained momentum and confidence slowly. An historic time approaches.

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