Man United and Chelsea are to sign Declan Rice this summer, but which side needs West Ham star more?

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Gary Neville will not be the only football pundit past or present to have made a mistake in making an assessment on Declan Rice in his first few years at West Ham. 

On Linkedin last week, the ex-England right back said: ‘I interviewed Declan Rice this week for the Overlap and I judged him as a young player at West Ham.

‘I have to say I got it completely wrong. What an outstanding young person. Authoritative, confident, humble and quite simply the most impressive young footballer I’ve interviewed in 11 years.’

Manchester United and Chelsea are set to do battle for midfielder Declan Rice this summer

Manchester United and Chelsea are set to do battle for midfielder Declan Rice this summer

It is a glowing review for Rice’s attitude off the field, but it is on it where he is making the real headlines and turning the heads of some of European football’s most distinguished names.

Rice only turned 23 last month but already has more than 150 appearances for the West Ham under his belt, as well as 27 England caps and a Euro 2020 runners-up medal.

No wonder Manchester United and Chelsea, as well as champions Man City, have been looking at the Hammers star with interest over the course of the past 12 months.   

It is little surprise that those trio are the clubs linked too, with Hammers boss David Moyes believing his star player is worth more than £100million.

The West Ham star is adding goals to his game this season, scoring in the FA Cup on Saturday

The West Ham star is adding goals to his game this season, scoring in the FA Cup on Saturday

The Scot, when asked whether Rice is worth more than £100m, replied: ‘Yeah. I think I’ve said everything there is to say about Declan. 

‘He’s a really important player for West Ham, he’s someone who we value greatly and you can see what he means to the team.

‘He’s a really good individual and we’re enjoying having him.’

But as Sportsmail‘s Martin Samuel wrote at the weekend, Rice’s value to West Ham is greatly in excess of what would be deemed a fair price elsewhere.

Recently, Moyes also said when discussing Rice’s transformation from raw young centre-half to West Ham captain and mainstay of England’s midfield: ‘I think in the last two years he has stepped up his leadership, as well as his playing. I think everybody would see him as an England player at the moment.

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City could also add competition to Thomas Tuchel's Blues

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City could also add competition to Thomas Tuchel’s Blues

‘A couple of years ago, he was still developing into an England player. I think about how well he has done for the national team, but more importantly you don’t get recognised for the national team if you don’t play well for your club side.

‘Declan has played really well for West Ham. I think he can keep moving on.

‘I think he’s got little bits of his game he can add to and we are at him all the time to keep improving, to keep driving the team on and show those leadership qualities which I think he’s already got for a young man, but they will get better as he gets older as well.

‘Being captain of West Ham is a big deal when you look at the great captains at this club over the years, none more so than Mark Noble. He has a role model to look up to in Mark Noble and we hope that Declan can keep carrying it and improving.’

Whether a new club is seen by Rice as a prerequisite to ‘move on’ remains to be seen, but if he does decide to leave the London Stadium, which of his suitors requires his services with greater urgency, and how could he slot in?

Rice reportedly favours a move to Chelsea, the club that released him aged 14 due to a number of reasons including a deemed lack of physicality and a failure to make one position his own.

But the Blues remain the 23-year-old’a boyhood heroes and the midfielder is understood to be waiting to find out their level of interest before deciding on his next move.

And it is perhaps now more than ever that the Blues’ midfield options need refreshing and re-energising. 

Midfield engine N’Golo Kante is being increasingly hampered by injuries and Sportsmail understands the Frenchman would need to be sold to free up space in Rice’s position.

However, that is seen as a possibility with the French World Cup winner now in his thirties.

Jorginho, 30, is no spring chicken either and while Mateo Kovacic, 27, represents a midfielder entering the prime of his career, the lack of outstanding alternatives around him suggests the Blues could well do with strengthening that area.

Chelsea need to refresh midfield with Jorginho (left) and N'Golo Kante (right) in their thirties

Chelsea need to refresh midfield with Jorginho (left) and N’Golo Kante (right) in their thirties

Ruben Loftus-Cheek remains a talent but at 26 years old is yet to reach his full potential while fellow England star Ross Barkley has started just one Premier League game this season.

But it is another Chelsea and England midfielder in Mason Mount who could prove pivotal, with him and Rice best friends back when they played in the Blues academy and remain so now as England team-mates.

Of course, playing alongside a close friend in itself will not be enough, with Rice not wanting to recreate his problems in the Blues academy in the first team.

That remains extremely unlikely given his performances over the last couple of seasons, as Sportsmail‘s Danny Murphy explained at the weekend following his dramatic equaliser against Kidderminster Harriers in the FA Cup fourth round.  

‘I am not saying Rice is as talented as Stevie [Steven Gerrard], but this is the type of midfielder Rice is going to become.’ It is a comparison Moyes has also been keen to make.

‘He’s incredible, the boy, he really is,’ Moyes – who tipped Rice to be a future England captain after his goal at the weekend – said recently. ‘He reminds me of Steven Gerrard playing for Liverpool.

Chelsea star Mason Mount (centre) is also a close friend of England team-mate Rice (right)

Chelsea star Mason Mount (centre) is also a close friend of England team-mate Rice (right)

‘Steven Gerrard could carry Liverpool, win the games for them. Declan Rice can do that for West Ham.’

Murphy added: ‘He can do so much more that sitting in front of the back four. Over the next few years, we will see him develop into a proper No 8, driving forward, getting more goals.

‘It was a great advert for the type of midfielder he is going to be, especially if he moves to a team who have midfielders who can cover his runs.’ 

A lot of that burden would fall on Kovacic if Kante and Jorginho are not part of the long-term plan, but the Croatian has done similar for Mount in recent seasons and there is certainly scope to add another No 8 in their midfield.

One Premier League goal this season however suggests there may be a bit of time before Rice realises his true potential as a goalscoring midfielder, even if there is little doubt he will reach those heights. 

David Moyes is among those who believes Rice could develop into a player like Steven Gerrard

David Moyes is among those who believes Rice could develop into a player like Steven Gerrard

And quite frankly, if he is deemed suitable enough to displace Kante and Jorginho, then he would be a huge upgrade on anything Man Utd possess in their midfield too. 

The Red Devils are facing departures of their own in that position, with Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard now into the final five months of their deals at Old Trafford.  

No doubt neither truly represents the sort of midfielder Rice is, but the Frenchman is, alongside Bruno Fernandes, seen as one of United’s best hopes of scoring from midfield. And even the Portuguese has struggled on that front recently.

United are therefore reportedly ready to step up interest in 23-year-old Rice with the need to sign a midfield general becoming a top priority.

United will also hope he improves on never having scored more than twice in any league campaign, and the fact his total of four across all competitions this season is double his previous best.

Man United meanwhile are set to lose Paul Pogba (second from right) and Jesse Lingard (left)

Man United meanwhile are set to lose Paul Pogba (second from right) and Jesse Lingard (left)

But it is his defensive and leadership qualities as well as his potential to be a transformative player that make him so appealing to United, who lack any clear direction in midfield.

Nemanja Matic is 34 this year while the jury remains out on Brazilian Fred and Scotland international Scott McTominay, who do not truly convince in the way Rice does at either end of the field.

There is therefore a gaping hole at Old Trafford waiting for Rice to fill it as United attempt to add quality to their side. The questions remains whether Ralf Rangnick’s men can do enough to convince him between now and the end of the season. 

The recent FA Cup exit against Middlesbrough means they are unlikely to win a trophy until 2023, which will represent their longest run without silverware since the early 1980s.

Fred (left) and Scott McTominay (right) are yet to convince for United at either end of the field

Fred (left) and Scott McTominay (right) are yet to convince for United at either end of the field

Champions League qualification is another huge factor. Rice is desperate to play in Europe’s most elite club competition, and while United currently are locked in a battle for fourth there is no guarantee they will be there come May. 

Such concerns will not be forthcoming in the blue half of Manchester though, with Pep Guardiola’s City currently cruising to a fourth league title in five seasons.

City have made strong advances for Rice before and he has long been linked as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho, who turns 37 in May and is out of contract in the summer.

Of course City have the brilliance of Rodri, Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne to fall back on, and as their pursuit of Harry Kane showed in the summer, they will not always go to the ends of the earth to land their top target.

Rice no doubt has more time on his side than his England captain, but like Tottenham in the summer, West Ham will be under no contractual pressure to sell amid a price tag in excess of £100m.

Interim boss Ralf Rangnick (left) can only rely on Bruno Fernandes (right) for midfield goals

Interim boss Ralf Rangnick (left) can only rely on Bruno Fernandes (right) for midfield goals

Rice remains under contract at West Ham until 2024, and the Hammers have the option to trigger his stay by an extra year.

City have shown an ability to adjust this season without a top-level, natural centre forward, and they will likely have a timescale on the time by which they will want Rice in.

But the player would ideally love a return to Chelsea. That would appear to leave United trailing last season’s Champions League finalists in the race, yet their need is arguably the greatest. 

The Blues can probably squeeze another year at least out of Kante and Jorginho, who have led the club to success in recent seasons. The same cannot be said of Fred, McTominay and Pogba, especially recently.

The quality he possesses means he will be a huge bonus for any club, but the race to sign him is set to be one of the most exciting transfer stories of the summer. 

Man City have also been linked with Rice as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho (left)

Man City have also been linked with Rice as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho (left)

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