Declan Rice capped a remarkable rise from the crushing disappointment of being released by boyhood heroes Chelsea as a teenager as he joined Arsenal from West Ham on Saturday for a fee that could rise to £105 million (.
Rice admits to being reduced to tears when the Blues let him go as a promising 14-year-old.
But a decade on, the brave decision to up sticks and move across London to join West Ham has been the making of the England international.
Fresh from leading the Hammers to their first trophy in 43 years by lifting the Europa Conference League in his final game for the club, the £100 million initial fee for Rice matches international colleague Jack Grealish’s move from Aston Villa to Manchester City two years ago as the most ever for an English player and the highest between two British clubs.
But it could be surpassed by Jude Bellingham’s £88 million move from Borussia Dortmund to Real Madrid should an extra £25 million worth of add-ons be activated.
Rice has been targeted by the Gunners as the final piece to turn Mikel Arteta’s men into Premier League champions again.
Arsenal launched an unexpected challenge for the title last season before falling away in the final months of the campaign.
Instead Manchester City stormed towards the finish line to retain their title and secure a treble.
But Arsenal have won the first battle of the new season by winning the race for Rice as City refused to match West Ham’s £100 million asking price, even if former manager David Moyes wanted more.
“He is arguably the best holding midfield player in the country and the best thing about Declan is he will get better,” said Moyes previously. “I don’t agree with the owners that he is a £100m footballer. Far, far more than £100m. Far, far more.”
The 24-year-old’s statistics for winning back possession and making interceptions were the highest of any midfielder in the Premier League last season.
But Rice is far more than a destroyer. His dynamic surges from the middle of the park and intelligent use of the ball have also made him a vital player for England manager Gareth Southgate.
– England turnaround –
Rice’s international career also illustrates his somewhat unexpected rise to stardom.
He made three appearances for the Republic of Ireland in 2018, qualifying due to his grandparents.
However, as he began to catch the eye at West Ham, Southgate convinced Rice to switch his allegiance back to the land of his birth.
Rice was an ever-present as England reached their first major tournament final for 55 years at Euro 2020 and in a quarter-final run at last year’s World Cup.
By 20 he was already regularly named West Ham captain and took the armband on a permanent basis once Mark Noble retired last year.
Rice’s impact helped the Hammers enjoy some of their best years for decades.
Winning the Conference League has ensured Moyes’ men will be in Europe for the third consecutive season, even after a disappointing 14th-placed finish in the Premier League last season.
But Rice had begun to get itchy feet as he watched his international teammates regularly fighting for Premier League and Champions League honours.
“I’ve been playing consistently well for my club and I feel like I really want to keep pushing. I see my friends here who are playing Champions League and for big trophies,” Rice said when at the World Cup in November.
And in his letter to West Ham fans released hours before Arsenal confirmed his transfer, Rice said the move was “about my ambition to play at the very highest level of the game.”
His final flourish as West Ham defeated Fiorentina in Prague last month means Rice is a rare case who has maintained his hero status even as he swaps east London for north.
Arsenal will be hoping that is also just the start of a trophy-ladden career to justify their record-breaking outlay.