West Ham’s rising star Declan Rice has been earning the praise of just about everyone in the past couple of weeks.
The Ireland Under-19 defender, who came on as a substitute in his side’s 4-0 defeat to Manchester United before being handed his first start against Southampton last weekend, has caught the eye of Soccer Saturday and Match of the Day pundits, and now one of his teammates is weighing in with praise.
Ahead of that loss at St. Mary’s Pablo Zabaleta, veteran of Manchester City and a new signing at the London Stadium, has told the club’s website that he ‘loves’ Rice, gushing in praise for the versatile 18-year-old:
“To be honest, I love him.
“He’s young but he has got that personality that you need to play with the first team. He came on against Manchester United and he was always asking for the ball, switching the ball from one side to the other, he looks really confident and that’s good.
“I love young players coming through from the Academy and showing that they want to do well, so hopefully we can help him as much as we can, and I’m sure he will be a very important player for West Ham over the years to come.”
With a place in West Ham’s first-team squad now on offer for him, the next step for Rice once he has some more games under his belt will surely be earning a spot in Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland squad.
The teenager was handed a place in the provisional squad for the recent friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay and World Cup qualifier against Austria in May (just days after making his Premier League debut), and although he didn’t make the cut on that occasion, he could well have one eye on the World Cup squad (assuming Ireland qualify for Russia next year).