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Declan Rice: West Ham captain can bow out a hero in European final

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The final of the Europa Conference League will mark Declan Rice’s 245th game representing West Ham.
Europa Conference League final: Fiorentina versus West Ham United
Location: Fortuna Arena, Prague Date: Wednesday, 7 June Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Broadcast: Live coverage available on BBC Radio 5 Live and Sport Newes Center website & app; real-time commentary on Sport Newes Center website & app

A dedicated group of young West Ham enthusiasts, journeying from London to Prague via Manchester for the Europa Conference League final, have chosen a singular anthem to echo on their flight to the Czech Republic.

This chant, likely to resound frequently before and during the clash with Serie A’s Fiorentina at Eden Arena on Wednesday, symbolizes West Ham’s opportunity to secure their first substantial trophy since 1980.

“One more year, one more year, Declan Rice.”

However, these fervent fans, along with the rest of the world, understand that their appeal is unlikely to be fulfilled.

Regardless of the outcome of the final, it is probable that this will be Rice’s farewell performance for West Ham.

Nine years subsequent to his signing at the age of 14, post rejection by Chelsea, Rice, after 245 games – including this crucial final – three club player of the year awards, and a season as captain, appears ready to consider the several proposals awaiting him from some of the most prominent clubs in football.

Rice is aware he has the opportunity to leave as a hero.

The only individual to lead West Ham to a European final victory is the legendary Bobby Moore, a World Cup champion. The sole other man to guide the Hammers to triumph in any final is Billy Bonds, a defender whose prominence is deeply embedded in the club’s history as one of its finest.

If West Ham prevails over Fiorentina, Rice will deservedly join this illustrious duo.

“This would undeniably be my most significant accomplishment in football so far,” he stated in an interview with the West Ham website.

“It would be everything to lift that trophy, especially alongside my teammates, eager to see them beaming and hoisting the trophy, and then to celebrate with our families. The chance to establish a lasting legacy where each player, the manager, and everyone involved is forever remembered is in our hands.”

Rice’s Ascension to Stardom

An article on this site in March 2019 narrated the tale of how Rice caught Arsene Wenger’s eye during an Under-18s match at Arsenal’s London Colney training complex.

It’s somewhat ironic, though not surprising, that Rice might find himself returning to Colney regularly next season if Arsenal’s longstanding interest in the 24-year-old is met with a bid that matches West Ham’s valuation of the England midfielder, potentially nearing £100m.

Rice’s journey to stardom hasn’t been a cakewalk.

He spent eight years honing his skills at Chelsea’s academy before they deemed him unsuitable.

West Ham saw potential in him, although they too had their reservations. Rice was the only player in his cohort to receive a scholarship without the promise of a definite professional contract.

Then, as now, Rice heeded his coaches’ advice and strived to enhance the areas needing improvement.

Matthew Upson, a former England defender, was requested to mentor Rice during their time together at West Ham, and while he modestly downplays his contribution to Rice’s career, his praise for the young player is effusive.

“Working with him was a pleasure,” Upson shared with Sport Newes Center. “He was exceptionally receptive. He welcomed feedback and criticism, not allowing it to discourage him. Instead, he embraced it positively and intelligently incorporated the information into his game. This is a unique skill.

“Rice was already at an exceptionally high level when I worked with him. His character exhibited the potential to reach the pinnacle of the game. That’s just Rice. That’s his star quality.

“He’s worked diligently on his game, both physically and technically. David Moyes brought him into the first team. And like all footballers, many people have contributed to his journey. But Rice’s greatest asset is his ability to assimilate all this information and utilize it to improve.”

During West Ham’s training ahead of the Fiorentina match, Rice’s ease and command on the field were evident.

“He’s an exceptionally mature player for his age,” Upson adds. “His ability to handle responsibility is extraordinary, which is why he was such a young captain in the Premier League.

Regardless of the fans’ unmet wish for “one more year,” few will resent Rice’s impending move. And it’s clear that he’s not been shirking his duties at the club.

In every event, from the unveiling of Mark Noble’s name on a pitch at the club’s academy, to the FA Youth Cup victory celebration at Arsenal, Rice has been a central figure.

Now, there’s one final task: to don the shirt and captain’s armband one last time.

Upson concludes: “A lot of captains lead by their performance, but they might not have the personality or the vocal presence in the dressing room.

“Rice sets the standard with his performance, but he also has the character, voice, and personality to complement it. His focus will be on his individual performance – the only thing he can truly control.

“His next move? It’s uncertain. But his potential to reach the top of the game is undeniable.”

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