The famed West Ham United academy has struggled to produce top players of late, but in Declan Rice the Hammers have someone who looks capable of making a big impression on the first team for many years to come.
Although the youngster’s debut for the club came in the dying embers of the 2016-17 campaign, he will always remember this term as the one in which he truly broke through into the senior setup.
With 26 Premier League appearances, 15 starts and some very mature performances to his name, Rice can look back at what has been a poor season for the Irons as a whole with at least some personal satisfaction.
In fact, the 19-year-old’s displays were so good that Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill saw fit to hand him his international debut in the March friendly defeat to Turkey.
Able to play as a holding man in midfield, Rice has been utilised mainly at centre-half at West Ham and it is there that fans are likely to see him flourish for the foreseeable future.
Injuries have certainly helped his cause; Winston Reid has missed a number of matches thanks to a series of fitness issues, whilst James Collins’ advancing years have restricted him to a peripheral role.
But Rice must take most of the credit for his continued involvement, with some solid displays against tough opposition culminating in eight consecutive league starts to finish the season.
There has been the odd mistake; his decision to duck out of a header against Arsenal springs to mind and proved particularly costly, but that is to be expected of a young footballer and his exposure to the side, especially in such trying conditions, should serve him well going forward.
West Ham supporters have had precious few academy products to get excited about over the past few years but Rice appears to be one who is in it for the long haul and is certainly the man to watch.