Declan Rice is one of the bright new stars in Gareth Southgate‘s England set-up. Jamie Redknapp caught up with the West Ham United midfielder at Forman’s, a restaurant close to the London Stadium, just seven days after his England debut to talk about his remarkable rise. James Restall listened in…
Declan Rice spoke to Sportsmail’s Jamie Redknapp near West Ham’s London Stadium
Jamie Redknapp: I’ve got to start with England. How special was that to make your full debut?
Declan Rice: It’s the biggest honour in football. To put on the shirt, to make my debut at Wembley and then to get the start in Montenegro. Everything about the whole week was special.
Redknapp: Was it beyond your wildest dreams when Gareth Southgate said: ‘You’re going to start?’ Did you get the feeling you would start when you met up with the squad?
Rice: No I didn’t. Just being called up was amazing. After the first game when Eric Dier went down there was a chance I may have got on a bit earlier but I hoped I’d get a chance with the way the game was going.
I made my debut and then we had a recovery day. Then we trained and the manager named the squad for Montenegro. When he said it, it was like, ‘Wow!’ You don’t know what to think.
Redknapp: Were you nervous?
Rice: Not at all. I was confident. I’ve had a great season at West Ham. I’ve been confident in myself and being around the lads all week I knew they had the confidence in me.
The likes of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, they give you all the confidence you need. They give you little pats on the back, tell you you’re doing well.
Hammers star Rice is photographed in the streets around the back of the London Stadium
Redknapp: Does playing for this England team feel like being part of a club side?
Rice: It’s a club environment. Every one of the staff know what the players want. Gareth gets involved in the training, he makes you feel welcome from the start, his man-management is excellent. He tells you you’re doing well or things you need to improve on. You sit down and watch clips. It’s top stuff.
Redknapp: I saw the picture of you when you were 14 with Harry Kane.
Rice: That picture was from my first time at St George’s Park. When I showed it to him, he couldn’t believe it either. We had to grab another for an update!
Redknapp: Did he give you any advice?
Rice: The first day we were training I sat down on the mats and we were having a conversation. He was asking how West Ham was, said that he has watched us quite a bit and me this season, which was nice to hear, said that he likes me as a player which was also good to hear! On the training field I was picking his brains, playing the ball into his feet how he wants it.
Former Ireland midfielder Rice made his England debut during the recent international break
Redknapp: Who was the best player in training? When I played for England it was Gazza. You just wanted to stop and applaud some of the things he could do.
Rice: I’d have to say Sterling. What he does with the ball is frightening. In the small-sided games, five-a-sides, if you’ve got him on your team you’ve won before you’ve even started! Everything about him… he’s impossible to stop.
Redknapp: There’s talk about him being a potential England captain. Do you get the feeling in the squad he is turning into a leader?
Rice: We do. He’s in the leadership group now. All the lads love him. He’s like Harry, always giving advice and trying to help where he can with the younger players in his position. I see him talking a lot with Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi. For them to learn off him, that’s special.
Redknapp: We’ve got the Nations League this summer. Do you get the feeling that you are part of a group that can win something?
Rice: I hope so. We’ve definitely got the players to do that. Also we’ve got the manager who gives us the confidence to go out and play. He says if you lose a pass trying to play it forward, it doesn’t matter. Try it again.
It’s the same with the wingers. He kept saying to Callum Hudson-Odoi to keep going one on one. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what you want to hear as a player. Going into these tournaments, if we keep improving we’ve definitely got a big future ahead.
Rice is looking forward to taking part in the UEFA Nations League finals with England in June
Redknapp: You have not had the most conventional pathway to the top. You were released by Chelsea at 14 and at West Ham you weren’t offered a scholarship straight away. Did you ever doubt yourself?
Rice: No. I only ever wanted to be a footballer. Getting released by Chelsea was one of the worst days of my life but by 6pm the same day I was training with Fulham. The next day I was at Chadwell Heath training with West Ham. I knew I had to kick on and push myself again.
At West Ham I was the last person to be offered a scholarship. I remember an Under 18 match against Fulham. I was 16 and had to prove myself. Everyone else already had their scholarship. It was probably one of my best games. Knowing that every day I’d have to fight has made me into the person I am today.
Redknapp: Who were your idols?
Rice: Growing up, John Terry was my obvious idol. I based my whole game on him. I was a Chelsea fan growing up. Joe Cole as well. Everything he did on the ball, that goal against Sweden at the World Cup in 2006, he was a special player.
Rice at Forman’s restaurant and bar — famous for London Cure smoked Scottish salmon
Redknapp: I want to talk about your position. I saw you as a centre back. You’ve got the frame, the size, you’re quick and brave… the next John Terry. Then at the start of the season, you found yourself playing central midfield against Liverpool. You were taken off at half-time and, honestly, I thought: ‘I don’t think he’s cut out for midfield.’
Rice: After the Liverpool game, to be honest with you, I didn’t think I was cut out for the Premier League. I wasn’t in the squad for the next two games, the transfer window was still open and I was thinking of going into the manager and maybe go out on loan – but I’ve just learned the position.
I’ve watched myself. That Liverpool game, I was doing everything wrong. I wasn’t sitting in front of the back four. I was getting attracted to the ball.
I compared it to when we played Liverpool at home. It was two different performances and I think they were only 20 games apart. No one got past me, I was breaking up the play. Now I see myself as a midfielder.
Redknapp: I remember going up against Gordon Cowans in a reserve game against Aston Villa just after I’d signed for Liverpool. I was sitting in the dressing room after thinking, ‘This isn’t for me.’ But it was the best experience I could have had. When you have bad games, you have to take them on board.
Rice: That Liverpool game has made me for this season. I knew if I wanted to get to the top level like the Liverpool players there was still so much more work to do.
Redknapp: Has it helped having someone as experienced as Mark Noble alongside you?
Rice: It’s like a father-son relationship.
Redknapp: Who’s the father?
Rice: Nobes! We get on so well. Our connection off the pitch, we’re so close. We have that understanding on the pitch. You’ll have had it.
West Ham captain Mark Noble (right) and midfield partner Rice have an excellent relationship
Redknapp: John Barnes used to help me a lot. I would talk to him in the bath after games. Do you still have those big baths?
Rice: We’ve got hot tubs! Nobes has his own bath in the dressing room. It was put in last winter, the Mark Noble bath!
Redknapp: Barnes would say to me, ‘You’ll be playing for England soon.’ Is Noble a bit like that with you?
Rice: They all are. Aaron Cresswell, Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass, when we’re sat in the Jacuzzi and they’re talking about me, I kind of go red because I feel embarrassed hearing them talk about me. But to have them looking out for me is really good.
Redknapp: Noble said he was like a proud dad watching you play for England.
Rice: My first game I was wearing No 16 so I came back to three messages off him buzzing because I was wearing his number for West Ham!
Redknapp: I was there for your first goal, against Arsenal. Was that the moment you felt, ‘I’ve arrived?’
Rice: After that game, scoring the winner in a derby, I felt like I had arrived. That feeling — I still can’t get over it now. That first goal, watching it back, you smile every time. It’s the best feeling ever.
Rice and Redknapp chatted ahead of West Ham’s weekend clash with Everton in east London
Redknapp: Who do you model yourself on?
Rice: I’ve always loved watching Sergio Busquets. I love the way he plays. He doesn’t move from the centre of the pitch. He’s so intelligent. With the ball he is frightening. That’s the level I’m trying to get to.
In the Premier League it’s Fernandinho. The defensive side of the game, the position he takes up, how much he breaks up. He’s another level as well.
Redknapp: What about set-pieces? Do you enjoy being a bit of a monster in the opposition box?
Rice: When I was 16, Matt Upson was my mentor. We always worked on that. He said that’s one thing you can get better on. When you go into the opposition’s box, it’s an opportunity to score. I wasn’t aggressive enough with my runs.
For my goal against Newcastle, Fabian Schar was marking me. I took him one way and went round the back of him. It was an aggressive run, I made myself free and put it in the back of the net.
Redknapp: Your pass completion was the best against Montenegro. Is that something you pride yourself on, keeping the ball and making sure you are making other players look better?
Rice: Having good pass completion in that role is massive. You don’t want to be giving sloppy passes away. Now, if you turn it over in the wrong areas it’s in the back of the net before you know it. I’m not one to go on a run and do a step-over. People now want everything to be forward, forward, forward. I can definitely add that to my game. But my game is just being more effective. Breaking it up, setting other people on attacks and keeping the ball moving.
Redknapp: Watching you play, it’s hard to believe you are still only 20. You have handled everything that has happened off the field in the last few weeks with maturity, too.
Rice: I know now what’s coming and what to expect. I’ve just got to stay level headed and let my football do the talking.
Barcelona star Sergio Busquets, pictured in action for Spain last week, is one of Rice’s idols
Redknapp: People are talking about you now. Are you flattered by it?
Rice: Growing up as a kid, when you become a professional footballer, you want to play at the highest level. It’s normal to like people saying nice things about you but I’m really happy playing at West Ham under the manager. I’ve got a special connection with the fans as well. I’m loving every minute of it.
Redknapp: You’ve now got the likes of Ray Winstone and James Corden ringing you up. I bet you can’t believe it.
Rice: When I signed my contract, I had a call on FaceTime. I answered it and it was James Corden! You grow up watching him on TV, he’s a West Ham fan and now he’s calling you!
Redknapp: Do you still live with your mum and dad in Kingston?
Rice: Mum still does my washing!
Redknapp: I was playing for England while I was still in digs at Liverpool. It’s not the same as living with your mum and dad and those home comforts. Don’t move out until you have to! How was it going home with your England cap?
Rice: It’s normal. Nothing has changed. I’m still the same person, I love living at home, I love being in my area because I’ve got my friends and family. I love coming back to Kingston and seeing everyone. Nothing’s changed.
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