Declan Rice gave everything for West Ham during his final season and helped them lift silverware… but the £105m star’s love-in with Mikel Arteta and Arsenal will still rankle with the Hammers faithful as he makes his return
- Rice returns to West Ham for the first time in Carabao Cup tie on Wednesday
- Midfielder is expected to be welcomed back when he plays at London Stadium
- Follow Mail Sport’s new Arsenal WhatsApp channel for all the breaking news
Historically when a rival takes your club’s best player, the reaction can often be quite dour.
Take Sol Campbell, the Tottenham captain moving to Arsenal in 2001 where he went on to be a key figure in the Invincibles side.
Twenty years later, Campbell revealed he still receives abuse. He told talkSPORT: ‘It’s ridiculous because it happened such a long time ago. Are you going to keep worrying about me when I’m 80 years old?’
Or Ashley Cole, dubbed ‘Cashley Cole’ when he swapped the Gunners for Chelsea in a £6million deal in 2006 that saw William Gallas go the other way. His subsequent visits to the Emirates were often abuse-filled.
Yet with Declan Rice, who returns to West Ham for the first time today in the Carabao Cup round of 16, it’s a markedly different scenario because of his actions before moving to Arsenal for £105million over the summer.
Declan Rice has quickly made himself indispensable to Arsenal following his £105m move
The midfielder is preparing to return to West Ham for the first time on Wednesday night, the club he led to Europa Conference League glory last season
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Mikel Arteta certainly thinks so. He said on Tuesday: ‘He’s fit and can be involved. It will be his first time back at his old club and a beautiful moment for him.
‘I would say so (a good reception), I hope so. And especially every time you hear him talk about West Ham and what they did for him and everybody at the club, he cannot talk any higher so hopefully it will be the same way towards him.’
The midfielder could have left the Hammers after the 2021-22 season, but agreed with the board to stay for another campaign because of Mark Noble’s retirement.
He took the captain’s armband, brushed aside speculation and registered a slew of record-breaking feats.
The 2022–23 season saw Rice win more possession than any other player in the league, and gain the most interceptions.
It culminated in West Ham winning the Europa Conference League trophy — the club’s first major European trophy since 1965.
These are all aspects that still remain with Hammers supporters, and will do for some time.
Of course, since then, the 24-year-old has become a lynchpin for Arteta, one of two undroppables alongside William Saliba.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta expects Rice to be warmly welcomed back to the London Stadium
Rice still speaks highly of West Ham and left the club for the Gunners on a high note
He is unlikely to suffer any of the acrimony Sol Campbell received when he returned to Tottenham with Arsenal in 2001
His performances are a reason why the Gunners sit two points from top spot in the league.
He dominated the midfield in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace, scored a crucial goal in Arsenal’s eventual 3-1 win over Manchester United and his side took an immediate drop-off when substituted at half-time against Tottenham.
This will not have gone unnoticed at the east London club, who are far from the same proposition without him in their ranks.
Some comments have also unintentionally pricked a small cross-section of his old faithful when comparing football under Arteta to what he had known previously.
‘You think you know football growing up and when you play, but when you meet managers like Mikel, you realise you don’t really know anything about football,’ he explained.
‘There are different styles and different ways of playing that I’ve never experienced before.’
The affection for his old club, though, has never been hidden. In Los Angeles on Arsenal’s pre-season tour, his first introduction to the media, Rice was quick to address West Ham.
He said: ‘The fans were constantly singing that song which really touched me. To have so many people singing it, and me singing it back to them, I genuinely felt the love of the fans.
‘That’s how I see them as well, I never want them to think any different.’
Rice did give West Ham one more season in 2022-23 after Mark Noble’s retirement
It is believed Rice still keeps in contact with staff at West Ham after spending 10 years there
It is understood that he is still in contact with club staff having built strong relationships during his 10-year spell there.
Reunions do not always go to plan. Neither are they a necessity — some fans will have invariably moved on from a once-loved player.
But for Rice, an ovation of some sort at the London Stadium will surely be on the cards.
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