LONDON: West Ham United captain Declan Rice’s moment of magic against Gent in the Europa Conference League on Thursday will long be remembered by fans in the London Stadium.
His solo run from inside his own half before dispatching a clinical shot into the corner broke Gent’s resistance as West Ham went on to win 4-1 for a 5-2 aggregate triumph.
It put West Ham into the semi-finals of Europe’s third-tier club competition and they are now favourites to win it.
But the fear amongst the West Ham faithful is that England midfielder Rice, long compared to club great and England’s World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore, may soon be producing these kinds of performances on grander stages.
The 24-year-old has one more year left on his contract and with West Ham still mired in a relegation dogfight, some of England’s biggest clubs are circling.
Premier League leaders Arsenal are heavily-linked with Rice who earlier this season made no secret of his desire to play in the Champions League — an unlikely scenario with West Ham.
“I see my friends here, who are playing Champions League and for big trophies,“ Rice said while on England duty at the World Cup in December. “You only get one career and at the end you want to look back at what you’ve won and the biggest games you’ve played in. I really want to do that.”
His goal against Gent will only add to the clamour for the defensive midfielder who is reportedly also a target for Manchester United and Liverpool.
West Ham manager David Moyes, whose priority is to keep the club out of the relegation zone but also has a European semi-final to look forward to, has been in the game long enough to understand the pressure the club will come under to sell Rice.
“He is some player. That is why we value him so highly. It was a Roy of the Rovers-type goal,“ Moyes said on Thursday as West Ham set up a clash against Dutch club AZ Alkmaar.
“He has so many parts to his game, he doesn’t always show them. He has a good personality but he could show it even more.
“His experiences with England have been huge. I can see him when he comes back, he has grown quicker and bigger, getting a chance to work alongside the quality of players they have got, and a great coaching staff, will do Declan the world of good.”
Working alongside the highest quality players week in week out may soon be a reality for Rice, although he would love to deliver a trophy for West Ham if this is his last season.
“It has taken longer than we expected this season, but we are hitting it at the right time,“ Rice said of a difficult campaign for the club who also reached the Europa League semi-finals last season, losing to Eintracht Frankfurt.
“To get into the European semi-finals back-to-back I don’t think that should be underestimated how big that is for this club. And for me, this competition has been taken seriously and we want to go the whole way.
“This club is craving silverware; so, what a chance this is to win a European competition.”
West Ham face Bournemouth away on Sunday chasing in a clash that could be vital to both club’s survival prospects. –Reuters