Sometimes the obvious choice is the worst one you can make.
In regards to Chelsea’s recruitment, there can be boredom in the names linked with Stamford Bridge, or the talent the club actually goes on to acquire.
The triumphant story of Edouard Mendy was a needed palette cleanser to that narrative, for £22m from Rennes coming into radically transform a vital position. Proving that a club of Chelsea’s size and financial advantage does not always need to spend exorbitant amounts on the “big” names.
But sometimes, the obvious choice is the best one you can make, and signing Declan Rice feels like the right choice.
This story is not a new one and we are not breaking new ground by discussing the potential return of Rice to his beloved club.
The club he left at the age of 14, the one members of his family support and where still remains strong connections, most palpably with his friend Mason Mount.
The sentimental reasons are not purely a reason why fans would love to see Rice return, it is because at the age of 22 he has already developed into one of the Premier League’s most accomplished midfielders.
Like Mount has been for Chelsea, Rice has become essential to the way West Ham functions as a team.
The way they are able to progress the ball from defence to attack, the way he cuts out passing lines for opposing attackers, shields his backline superbly and covers large areas with incredible athleticism.
The eye and statistical test both back up how magnificent a talent Rice has become, seemingly only getting better the more he features.
One stat that catches the eye is the 91.35% accuracy of passes into the final third for the Hammers which puts him top in the Premier League so far this season. He also ranks in the top five for progressive runs, showing his creative contribution to his team.
His two performances against title contenders Liverpool and Manchester City were brilliant, with Pep Guardiola labelling him an “exceptional” player after last Sunday’s clash at The Etihad.
Chelsea’s long-standing interest in Rice tracks back to the summer of 2020 when Frank Lampard was in charge and wanted the English midfielder to complete the busy summer window.
In the fallout to Lampard’s sacking back in January, it was claimed that the club legend’s persistence on the need for Rice caused frictions behind the scenes, but that did not seem to evaporate interest under Thomas Tuchel with the German listing Rice as a potential midfield recruit this past summer.
football.london over the summer reported that Rice had rejected new contract offers from West Ham to extend his stay at the London Stadium with both Chelsea and Manchester United monitoring the situation.
David Moyes has come out and strongly proclaimed his star man is worth more than £100m in the current transfer market, but given Rice’s growing reputation and hesitancy to commit his long-term future in East London potential suitors will be circling.
Following the record-breaking transfer to bring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge for £98m, the need for Chelsea to splurge more money on attacking players feels silly, at least in the central attacking role.
The deadline day loan signing of Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid brought in a midfield body for the season which many felt Tuchel needed but it doesn’t look like the player will be in England beyond this season after only starting one Premier League game so far.
The central midfield area should be the biggest priority in 2022 for Marina Granovskaia.
Jorginho, despite playing the best football of his career in 2021, has an agent who continually speaks of desires to return him to Italy. N’Golo Kante’s fitness issues persist, causing him to miss 10 of Chelsea’s 22 competitive games this term.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mateo Kovacic have shown strong form and will likely remain here past this season but neither provide the profile of Rice to break up play so effectively, something the club has arguably not replaced since Nemanja Matic’s departure in 2017.
Rice should be Chelsea’s Lukaku of next summer.
Lukaku was also a very obvious option to upgrade a key area of the squad, but a figure few bemoaned coming back to a club he originally joined in 2011. There was a feeling of unfinished business, a dream unfulfilled which there might still be for Rice.
Those intangible elements are priceless to have within a squad and sadly cannot be measured within a spreadsheet. But similar to the Belgian, Rice brings a sense of leadership to any team he plays in, dominance and conviction to his performance that’s hard to teach.
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Chelsea’s Premier League title fate should be irrelevant to the obvious interest in Rice. If Tuchel wins the league, the club should still be strengthening rather than sitting and waiting as they did in 2015 and 2017.
Rice is head and shoulders top of the list for Chelsea’s next big arrival.
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