It is easy to forget sometimes that Declan Rice is just 19.
The West Ham teenager produced yet another accomplished performance as the Hammers held Chelsea to a goalless draw at the London Stadium.
So assured, in fact, that neither Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud got a look in.
Rice stood out and brilliantly absorbed the pressure of facing arguably one of the finest midfields on offer in the Premier League as West Ham put a dent in the Blues 100 per cent start to the season.
He also served a reminder to Chelsea of a top talent they let go to waste.
Maurizio Sarri did not start a single English player on Sunday. Ross Barkley made a late cameo – and almost scored. But not one Chelsea academy graduate was on their bench.
You could say it highlights the quality the Blues have at their disposal. Make no mistake, Chelsea have a catalogue of outstanding youngsters. Yet none are banging down the doors of their starting XI.
That opens an opportunity for English youngsters at other clubs to make an impression when it comes to future Three Lions call-ups – including former Cobham-based kid Rice.
On this evidence, you can easily see why Gareth Southgate has been keeping Rice closely monitored.
The midfielder – named by Hammers legend Tony Gale as the best ‘defensive player’ at West Ham – was released by Chelsea at 14, having started their as a seven-year-old.
Fast forward five years, Rice is a regular Premier League starter (unlike Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek) and now finds himself at the centre of an international wrangle.
Republic of Ireland are desperate to retain him. After three caps, they see him as a future captain.
The word is Gareth Southgate – who names his next England squad the weekend after next – is a keen admirer and could exploit the loophole of Rice not playing in a ‘competitive’ international for the Irish.
And it’s easy to see why. With Southgate voicing concerns over limited options currently at his disposal, Rice fits the style Southgate likes to play. He can play as an anchor or slot in anywhere at the back.
Make no mistake, there is more to come from Rice. He is still learning on the job.
He will face further challenges along the way but the manner in which he frustrated Chelsea through the middle and managed to keep the West Ham ticking, Rice is certainly destined for a long stay at the top.
Only time will tell whether that is with England or Ireland.
Indeed, time will tell how long he stays at West Ham. The club are yet to offer him a new deal. And plenty of big clubs will be sniffing around.
Given all the millions they spent over the summer, the smartest investment West Ham could make next would be to offer Rice a long-term contract befitting of his talents and professionalism.
Rice is a perfect example of how a young professional should conduct himself, both on and off the field.
That makes Rice the future for West Ham. And, if he carries on in this manner, maybe he is for England too.
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