February 26, 2021

West Ham star Rice has ‘ability and character’ to fill England midfield void, says Rooney

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With the Three lions lacking options in the centre of the pitch, the Hammers star has been backed to grasp the opportunity to become a regular

West Ham’s Declan Rice has the “ability and character” to establish himself as one of England’s first choice central midfielders, says former Three Lions captain Wayne Rooney.

The 21-year-old has been a regular in Gareth Southgate’s squad since making his debut against Czech Republic in March 2019, having switched his international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland, who he represented at youth level.

He has made more than 100 appearances for West Ham since making his debut as an 18-year-old at the end of the 2016-17 season.

Those performances have seen him linked with an £80 million ($105m) move to Chelsea, although the Hammers have made it clear they have no intention of selling the midfielder, who still has four years left on his contract.

Rice has once again been included in Southgate’s squad for Nations League games against Iceland and Denmark next month, and with Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson out injured, there is a place in the starting XI up for grabs.

While the likes of Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Kalvin Phillips will also be hoping to stake a claim for a place in the side, Rooney believes Rice has all the attributes required to become a first-choice pick.

“The biggest gap England have is in the middle – after Jordan Henderson, who is recovering from injury, they have no other established, top-class midfielder,” he told The Times.

“It is the position where England are most lacking. I’d like somebody to make that spot alongside Jordan their own. It is why Gareth brought in Kalvin Phillips and the Leeds youngster deserves his chance.

“Declan Rice has the ability and character to do it. It’s a big season for him. After a couple of good campaigns at West Ham and showing promise for England, can he cement his spot?”

Rooney also believes Southgate should consider a change in goal. Everton’s Jordan Pickford has been Southgate’s regular No 1, but struggled for form in a Toffees shirt at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, the performances of Nick Pope and Dean Henderson has put Pickford’s place under further scrutiny, with Rooney joining those calling for a possible change.

“Gareth has a decision to make about his goalkeeper: whether to stick with Jordan Pickford or go with Dean Henderson or Nick Pope,” he added. “Pope is the calm one whereas the other two are more unpredictable. Pickford and Henderson can give you 9/10 performances but then have a 4/10, whereas Pope is always a solid 7/10 at Burnley.”