Declan Rice remains a priority transfer target for Frank Lampard even though Chelsea face the prospect of paying a club-record fee for a player they released as a teenager.
The England international spent his formative years in the club’s prolific academy, but while several of his piers, including best friend Mason Mount, progressed almost seamlessly through to first team level, Rice has taken a roundabout course to becoming a Premier League regular and a hugely influential player in a rapidly improving West Ham side.
The Hammers wanted around £80million for the 21-year-old in the summer and are unlikely to budge from that valuation should, as expected, Chelsea come knocking again next month.
But the Blues could have saved themselves a fortune had they not dispensed with a talent who had been regarded as one of the jewels in the crown of their academy.
With so many other aspiring youngsters to compete against, meanwhile, it was inevitable that some players would slip through the net – Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah was also released – and the arrival of Sweden Under-16 defender Joseph Colley from Brommapojkarna, now at Chievo, contributed to pushing Rice towards the exit door.
Rice has since developed into one of the most commanding midfielders in the top flight and a supreme athlete, capable of covering almost every blade of grass and stamping his authority on matches with his physical presence, but it wasn’t always that way.
Chelsea’s sports science department were said to have warned club chiefs that Rice would go through a growth spurt just two weeks prior to his release and that any judgement on his future should take that into account, but that advice was seemingly ignored and the player eventually joined Fulham before switching to east London. ,
Back to the present day and West Ham are said to have offered Rice a lucrative long-term contract but their star player is said to be in no hurry to commit the next few years of his career to David Moyes’ rebuilding project.
Rice’s current deal expires in 2024 and the Hammers would be able to command a significant fee for a player who openly admitted last month that he was in a rush to add silverware to his burgeoning reputation.
He said: ‘You want to be successful for club and country. I think it’s an important thing to win trophies. There’s talk of Harry Kane at Spurs and what he should be doing, obviously he can do whatever he wants.
He’s going to win trophies we all know that. ‘I think that’s something I want to aim for as well. I’m only 21 but to get those highs of your career you need to win stuff and that’s what I want to do.’