West Ham United veteran full-back Pablo Zabaleta has lauded the efforts of his 19-year-old counterpart Declan Rice after the youngster’s performance in Sunday’s Premier League draw with Chelsea, making the claim: “he will be future captain for West Ham”.
Rice started a second consecutive match for David Moyes’ men in the key draw with Antonio Conte’s Blues, contending for Man of the Match in an impressive defensive display from the Hammers.
The starlet, who captained the club’s U23s to Premier league 2 Division 2 promotion last season, had made a total of 25 first-team appearances this campaign, making members of the Claret & Blue Army very excited.
This also applies to his comrades and Zabaleta, a two-time Premier League champion, had this to say to his team’s Official Website WHUFC.com about his defensive counterpart, 15 years his junior.
“Decs has been fantastic, It’s fantastic to see him play at that level and he’s only 19,” proclaimed the 34-year-old, who started alongside Rice at right-wing back in the Stamford Bridge stalemate.
“I can’t believe that he is that young, yet he is very mature, and he is improving game after game. I love when I see young players from the Academy come through and playing that well.
“I like to have him next to me because he is young and he has that energy to play and do some of the running. I hope I can help him and teach him how to defend.
“Listen, this guy has a great future for this club. He will be a future captain for West Ham, I am sure about this. I am very pleased for him.”
Pundits, ex-players and supporters have also been among those to publicly praise Rice for his influence in the senior side this term, as well as managers Slaven Bilic and Moyes at various points.
Rice made his West Ham debut in May 2017, coming on as a late substitute on the final day of the 2016/2017 in a 1-2 victory over Burnley at Turf Moor, experiences the final few minutes.
Since then, whenever he has played in the Premier League, the Irishman has rarely put a foot wrong, calm, consistent and mature in defence or in midfield, if he is needed to play there.
However, Rice’s outstanding performances and his positive attitude haven’t just been picked up on at domestic level, the International stage too as he recently made his debut for the Republic of Ireland senior side, just days after picking up FA Ireland’s U19 Player of the Year award.
He won Man of the Match on the occasion, a friendly defeat to Turkey, though because it wasn’t a competitive match, the versatile defender is still eligible to represent England, with Gareth Southgate reported to be interested in him.
Rice has also managed a Man of the Match or two at club level, winning the accolade in another 1-1 draw, away at Tottenham Hotspur in early January, picking up many other awards as well, including PL2 Player of the Month for October.
The way that the ex-Blue at youth level has applied himself and played this campaign had made him an outsider to pick up this season’s Hammer of the Year, following on from his Young Hammer of the Year triumph in 2016/2017.
Another candidate is Zabaleta, also something of a revelation since August in his performances due to his age, only missing one league match through suspension in that time.
On Sunday, the pair were both a key part of restricting the West Londoners to just the goal at the Bridge and giving their team a crucial point in their bid for Top-Flight survival.
The former Manchester City star was thrilled with the defensive showing and the calibre of attackers, including the likes of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata, that they kept at bay.
“I’m very pleased with the performance from the backline, the three at the back and the two wing-backs,” Zabaleta stated.
“We worked really hard during the whole game to stop their front three because they have really good players upfront – Hazard, Willian, Morata, then Giroud came on and with Alonso on one side and Moses on the other side they also have pace. So, given that, I thought we were really good defensively and really solid.”
Zabaleta, Rice and the rest of Moyes’ boys will be hoping for yet one more positive performance as they aim to go three matches unbeaten when Paul Lambert’s Stoke City visit the London Stadium next Monday evening, a game that we will bring you live right here on MooreThanJustAClub.
Three points again at the Potters would be enough, in theory, to all but make sure that the East Londoners will be playing in the Premier League next season in the wake of a tricky term on and off the pitch.
With six matches still left to play, West Ham are 14th in the standings and now an impressive full 16 points ahead of the dreaded drop zone with 34 points from 32 outings.