West Ham’s special Rice sends message to the boss about Tottenham clash
PUBLISHED: 12:00 20 September 2017
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Bilic full of praise for Hammers youngster
Hammers manager Slaven Bilic asked his players to make his selection for Saturday’s showdown with Tottenham a headache.
And one youngster answered that call in the 3-0 Carabao Cup cruise over Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night.
Declan Rice is just 18-years-old, but the defender put in a display that belied his tender years.
And with James Collins out for a month with ankle ligament problems, it is Rice who will be looking to take his place in the lunchtime showdown.
“The manager said before the game there are places up for grabs and things like that really fire me up,” said the Ireland under-21 international.
“Hopefully I have really caught the eye and we have three more training sessions before the Spurs game now and hopefully I’ll be selected.”
The manager certainly did notice him on Tuesday and was full of praise for the youngster.
“Declan Rice is only young on paper,” said Bilic. “He has got a brain and concentration as if he was 30-years-old. He is thinking about the game, his positioning and he is totally in the game which is putting him into a position where he has got everything to become a really, really good player.”
The youngster played in a back four on Tuesday and looked cool and untroubled throughout against admittedly poor opposition.
So where does Bilic think is his best position?
“Declan can play both in defence and in midfield,” he said. “He is naturally a centre back, but he has got enough stamina in his body and legs to play as a holding midfielder.
“Where he is going to play in his career I really don’t know. If I had to choose I would say centre back, but I don’t see anything he doesn’t have to be a really good central midfielder as well.”
West Ham are likely to play three centre-backs against Spurs and Rice is gunning for one of those three spots.
“It’s bad news that ‘Ginge’ is out because he’s been excellent since he came in, but there’s a space up for grabs and I want to take that,” said the confident teenager, who was making his first start since the dismal showing at Newcastle.
“After the Newcastle game we all needed to have a look at ourselves and sort out what was going wrong,” said Rice.
“We did that on the training ground and the result has been three clean sheets.”
Rice has impressed this season and it seems he is learning from some of the best.
“If you want to be a top player, you always want to try and win trophies,” he said. “I still speak to John Terry who I know from my Chelsea days, and he has won loads of trophies.
“There’s so much cup history about West Ham. I looked at a video this week and I didn’t realise how much the cup means to this club.
“There was action of Billy Bonds and Bobby Moore, it was really good to see it,”
Not a bad lesson for Rice to watch the Hammers legends and it is refreshing to see him learning about the club history.
West Ham go into Saturday’s game without Collins and Manuel Lanzini because of injury, but will Bilic go with experience and play Angelo Ogbonna, or give Rice another chance?
“I couldn’t begin to describe how I would feel if I played,” he said. “It would be the best feeling ever.”
Kick-off on Saturday is at 12.30pm.