Declan Rice bids farewell to the club he made his name at. West Ham took Declan when he was released by his boyhood club, Chelsea, at the age of 14, and nurtured him to become the world-beating, team-leading, European-winning captain he is today. As a West Ham fan myself, seeing Rice depart was understandably difficult. Seeing a player come through the academy and go on to be not only captain of your club, but to become one of the best in the world at what he does and lead us to our first trophy since 1980 is quite easily the greatest feeling as a West Ham fan. However, we all knew this wouldn't last forever and with the ability we knew Rice had, it was inevitable that he'd go on to bigger things eventually.
But we aren't here to talk about his move to Arsenal. We're here to present the greatest moments that Declan Rice had in claret and blue; beginning with his debut at Turf Moor in 2017.
21st of May 2017 - Declan Rice made his West Ham United debut as a 91st minute sub against Burnley, replacing Edimilson Fernandes. Despite not getting many minutes, this was a moment that absolutely nobody could take away from him - Declan Rice had made a Premier League appearance as an 18 year old. A massive week for Declan, his family, friends, and the club too, as just five days earlier, Rice captained the team to promotion with the u23 side. Many people were actually shocked at Slaven Bilic's decision to substitute Rice on considering David Gold was mostly against youth players breaking into the first team - in fact, I'm not sure I remember a single player doing so since I began going to games in 2013 (bar Reece Oxford, but that's a story for another day).
Despite Bilic being sacked in late 2017 after losing 4-1 to Liverpool at home, the appearances kept coming for Rice. Under new manager David Moyes in his first stint at the club, Rice was able to garner regular Premier League football and make himself a regular in the team at just 19 years old. On 12 January 2019, Rice scored his first goal for West Ham and was named man of the match in a 1–0 win against Arsenal, in West Ham's 50th Premier League game at the London Stadium. This game time Rice earned under both Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini gave him the opportunity to change his allegience from Ireland to England - a controversial decision, of course, and was met with a lot of backlash from Irish people. England however welcomed Rice with open arms, and he made his England debut in 2019 at the age of 20. As a West Ham fan, the pride we had for producing someone as talented as Rice for the first time in what felt like forever was immense, as you can imagine. Since his debut in 2019, Rice has represented England at both Euro 2020 and World Cup 2022, gaining 43 caps and scoring 3 goals for the Three Lions.
The infamous 2019/20 season. Remembered by many as the "COVID year", but by West Ham fans, as the year we almost went down. Manuel Pellegrini had West Ham battling relegation for the first half of the season was ultimately given the sack after a 2-1 home defeat to an incredibly weak Leicester side, and the job was given back to David Moyes on an 18 month contract. Rice played an integral part in keeping West Ham in the Premier League and had attracted some interest from his boyhood club - Chelsea. However, at the quoted price of £80m, Chelsea never put a formal bid in and Rice continued to wear his heart his sleeve.
A memorable moment during this season surprisingly came under Pellegrini, as a famous 1-0 win over Chelsea the Stamford Bridge - with David Martin in goal - was followed by an interview by Rice, where he stated "Look, all I want to say is: I'm sorry to all the West Ham fans that we give heart attacks to every week, but today that's probably one of the best days of my life!"
The 2020/21 season was memorable for a number of reasons. West Ham United, off the back of a relegation-threatened season, had finished 6th in the league and won European football with Declan Rice captaining the side. Whether you remember it because of the run to European football, Jesse Lingard's half-season masterclass, Craig Dawson almost kicking Che Adams' head off or Said Benrahma *finally* scoring that first goal for the club against Brighton, it was certainly a season to cherish. In early March of 2021, Mark Noble announced his intention to retire from football at the end of the 2022/23 season, after spending 18 seasons at his boyhood club. The torch was being passed to Declan Rice, with him leading the team forward in our incredible European run of 2022/23.
Whilst many do admit that our league form slipped in the 2022/23 season, that Europa League run was simply unforgettable. The group stages were, for the most part, uneventful, but we loved every minute of it. That half-way line run from Rice before burying it into past Livakovic stands out heavily to me - this was where you could really see that Rice was more than just a traditional midfielder and was able to carry the ball incredibly well.
Topping the group and finding out we drew Sevilla made all of our guts drop, as it seemed the club had been given the impossible challenge. After putting in a fantastic defensive performance in that second leg against Sevilla, you just felt like our time would come. And in the 112th minute, Andriy Yarmolenko slotted the ball into an open net after Yassine Bounou spilled it and West Ham knocked out the team that everyone backed to win the competition. "Surely they can't...can they?"
Lyon away was another night to remember, with a 3-0 win away from home against a very strong Lyon side putting us into the semi-finals of the Europa League. Rice would score again, doubling our lead after Craig Dawson's near post header and go on to kiss the badge. After all the rumours surrounding Rice over the years, seeing him kiss the badge in a European quarter-final? An incredible feeling for sure. The night against Lyon would go into West Ham Twitter history, too, as Rice referenced Moussa Dembele's wink at the referee and how it spurred them on to win the second leg.
The semi-final exit to Frankfurt broke the hearts of many. Not only did it rob the club of a European final, but also the retiring Mark Noble of a trophy as captain of the club. Alas, the torch had been passed on, and Declan Rice was able to captain the team solely for the first time since his debut in 2017.
West Ham's European journey began in the group stage, where they faced the likes of FCSB, Silkeborg and Anderlecht. Rice's commanding performances in midfield were instrumental in guiding the team through the group phase. His ability to read the game, dictate the tempo, and shield the defence became pivotal for the Hammers as they navigated through the group stages. As the competition progressed, West Ham faced formidable opponents in the knockout stages - AEK Larnaca, Gent and AZ Alkmaar stood in front of West Ham in their journey to the final. Rice continued to excel under pressure, leading by example and showcasing maturity beyond his years. His calming influence on the team was evident during tense moments, helping the Hammers secure victories over established European sides in the quarterfinals and semi-finals.
The moment of truth arrived for West Ham in the final, where they clashed with Fiorentina in an exhilarating showdown. "Paqueta he's played it through, and Bowen's in! It's up for grabs now!! He's done it!!! David Moyes is on the pitch! West Ham have won it!!!"
With the armband on his sleeve, Rice was an embodiment of leadership, and his performance resonated throughout the team. As the final whistle blew, West Ham United emerged victorious, claiming the Conference League trophy in a historic triumph. A truly historic moment in our history, and one we'll never forget. Tears were shed, celebrations echoed throughout the night, and West Ham United were Champions of Europe.
Declan Rice's captaincy during the Europa Conference League campaign will forever be etched in West Ham's folklore. His exceptional leadership, coupled with his footballing brilliance, propelled us to a remarkable European triumph and showcased the immense potential of this talented young captain. Rice's journey from a promising academy prospect to lifting a European trophy with West Ham has given him the Captain's Farewell that he deserves.
7 years, 245 appearances, 15 goals, 13 assists, and one trophy after his debut, Rice departed the club for Arsenal, breaking the hearts of every West Ham fan and becoming the most expensive British player of all time in the process.