July 20th 2016 is a date and fixture that will bear little significance to most West Ham United fans.

A pre-season friendly against Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan on a tour of Austria.

And a resounding 3-0 defeat for West Ham.

The team line-up that day was a mish-mash of flop signings, first team regulars and youngsters.

But three years on that game had more significance than even the most ardent fan could have imagined.

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From Russia with love

Because in the 33rd minute of that game one Declan Rice made his West Ham debut.

Rice came on at centre back and was even at fault for a goal, his loose passback gifting Kazan a 2-0 lead.

Fast forward three years and Rice is West Ham’s prised asset, valued at over £70million and a fully-fledged England international.

 

It has come as no surprise to experienced West Ham man Aaron Cresswell, though.

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‘He was always destined for the top’

Speaking to the club’s official website Cresswell has revealed for the first time the impact Rice made ahead of his bow against Kazan.

“We’ve had a few standout performers (this season) but I think Declan has been our top player,” Cresswell told whufc.com.

“We were talking about this recently. I’ve been training with him since he was 15 or 16 and he first came across to the first team.

“Then he came away with us in pre-season and played against Rubin Kazan and you could see the way he conducted himself and his ability and reading of the game meant he was always going to go to the top of the game.”

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West Ham must enjoy Rice while they can

So meteoric has Rice’s rise been in one of the most crucial positions in modern football, there is an air of inevitability he may outgrow West Ham.

He is future captain material for club and country. Players like Rice come along once in a generation.

At just 20 years old, though, the Hammers will hope to enjoy him for at least a few more years yet.

Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane may have other ideas, though.

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