DECLAN RICE has a massive decision to make this summer — and it does not involve staying at West Ham.
Every team in Europe is keen to sign the future England captain at the end of the season, although very few can afford him.
Manchester United and Arsenal both want to sign Declan Rice this summerRex
But even the handful of clubs who can meet the Hammers’ demands will present a dilemma for Rice as he considers all his options.
The fact that West Ham still have an option to extend his contract to 2025 is immaterial.
Whether they stay in the Premier League or not, they know their best player is leaving. Rice virtually confirmed that last month when he said that he is desperate to play in the Champions League.
Because that ain’t going to happen at West Ham any time in the foreseeable future.
That’s why he has already rejected an offer of a new EIGHT-YEAR contract from the club who would happily make him their highest paid player in the blink of an eye.
There are about a dozen players at the London Stadium currently earning more than Rice, including left-back Emerson Palmieri, Ivory Coast winger Max Cornet and reserve keeper Alphonse Areola.
But that’s often the case with players who have graduated through the academy rather than signing on big money from another club.
Yet it’s not about the money for Rice. It’s about competing at the very highest level and squeezing every last drop from his career.
He will have seen how his 29-year-old England team-mate Harry Kane — who signed for Tottenham way back in 2011 — is still waiting to win his first major trophy at the club after committing himself to a lucrative long-term contract five years ago.
And he is not going to make the same mistake with West Ham.
He will also have noted how his pal Jack Grealish, 27, gave up being a big fish in a small pond at Aston Villa to win the Premier League in his very first season with Manchester City.
So now it is simply a question of which club can offer him the best opportunity to maximise his talent during the peak years of his career.
Having just turned 24, he has the potential to become one of the best defensive midfield players in the world over the next decade.
It was only last April that David Moyes said that West Ham would not consider selling their captain for less than £150million.
But now the consensus is that he could go for little more than half that amount, particularly if the Hammers are relegated to the Championship.
Yet with so many serious clubs wanting his services, there’s plenty of potential for a bidding war taking that fee to British record levels.
Chelsea, despite having released Rice from their academy at 14, would have no shame in breaking the bank to bring him back.
But, like Liverpool, there’s every chance that they won’t be able to offer him Champions League football next season, even though the two are the last English clubs to win it.
City only play with one holding midfielder and already have Rodri and Kalvin Phillips on their books.
Newcastle are clearly an emerging force and have the resources to outbid anyone if they can secure a top-four finish this season.
But it’s Arsenal or Erik ten Hag’s United who offer the most logical career path for Rice and, with both clubs apparently on the up, it could be a straight shootout between the resurgent giants this summer.
Either way, West Ham fans should make the most of their best player while they still can.
UTD MAY SMELL RAT
MANCHESTER UNITED fans are understandably excited by the news that ‘Britain’s richest man’ is trying to buy the club from the Glazers.
The fact that Sir Jim Ratcliffe has been living abroad as a tax exile is not going to curb their enthusiasm.
Yet financial experts have calculated his personal fortune at £6billion — and the Glazers want at least £5bn.
That does not leave a lot of spare cash for someone who clearly hates the idea of frittering his money on such avoidable expenses as income tax.
And after he lost out in the bidding for Chelsea last spring, United should not hold their breath waiting for the takeover.
CHELSEA manager Graham Potter says they cannot keep trying to spend their way out of trouble or else they will end up with a 30-man squad.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Graham, but the matchday programme for last week’s game against Crystal Palace already listed 33 Blues players.
And that did not even include the club’s £88million new-boy Mykhailo Mudryk.
Potter joked he hopes he is still in a job when Mudryk’s remarkable new contract finally expires in 8½ years.
Good luck with that. Me? I just hope I am still alive in 2031.
BRITAIN’S top referees have been tying themselves in knots trying to justify Manchester United’s equaliser against neighbours City last week.
But they’re defending the indefensible because anyone who knows anything about football could see Marcus Rashford was offside and the goal should never have stood.
And if the laws of the game say differently because he wasn’t interfering with play, then the law is an ass.
SPURS are threatening to issue a lifetime ban to the supporter who kicked Aaron Ramsdale during Sunday’s 2-0 home defeat by Arsenal.
More than 500 season ticket holders have already claimed responsibility.
BLATT TO THE FUTURE
FIFA have claimed five billion people ‘engaged’ with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
What does that even mean?
But then very little coming out of world football’s governing body makes sense any more.
According to reports, TV companies covering the winter finals were ordered to show at least one shot of Fifa president Gianni Infantino at every match.
But they weren’t allowed to film him on his phone, nor below knee height when he was sitting next to any of his dodgy dictator mates in the plush stadiums out in the desert.
Come back Sepp Blatter, all is (almost) forgiven.
A MOVE to rename the Severn Bridge the Gareth Bale Bridge has been KO’d by a House of Lords committee.
Presumably they were worried the bridge — which connects England and Wales — would be out of action for nine months every year.
EMMA’S MISSION IMPOSSIBLE
TENNIS star Emma Raducanu has defended her commitment to the sport by declaring: “I give 200 per cent in everything I do.”
That probably explains why the British ace, 20, has suffered so many injuries — she’s been trying to do the impossible.
KAM OFF IT
ICE skater Kamila Valieva has been cleared by the Russian anti-doping agency — despite her positive test before last year’s Winter Olympics.
They announced that although the 16-year-old had taken banned heart medication, she bore ‘no fault or negligence’ for the offence.
And who could possibly doubt the word of such a trusted organisation?