Monday, April 22, 2024

Declan Rice: All name, no number


We’re into the final week of the final Interlull of 2023. There were some Arsenal players in action over the weekend. We’ve already talked about the tactical genius of playing Kai Havertz at left-back, while William Saliba got a few minutes at the end of France’s thrashing of Gibraltar.

Yesterday, Leandro Trossard scored the fifth goal in Belgium’s 5-0 win over Azerbaijan. His celebrations were muted, but then it wasn’t the 14th goal against a minnow with a population that would barely half fill Emirates Stadium. He also produced some sweet skillz which are doing the rounds this morning. Elsewhere it looks like Mo Elneny got 90 minutes under his belt as Egypt beat Sierra Leone in a friendly.

Today, England play North Macedonia in a Euro qualifier, and having already won the group by some distance, you might hope that Gareth Southgate would give some of our lads a rest. However, I bet you he’ll start Bukayo Saka in a game he doesn’t need, and no doubt Declan Rice will be deployed in midfield because there really isn’t anyone else in the squad who can do what he does. I guess if you pick Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips, you leave yourself somewhat reliant on Rice, given that he’s an actual footballer and the other two are basically retired.

He spoke before the game about the transfer to Arsenal and the price-tag, telling The Times (£):

When the transfer was going through I was very nervous because of the price tag. It’s natural to think about that. You’re a human being bought for £105 million, it doesn’t feel very normal. But that was because of what I’d done at West Ham, what they valued me at.

When I signed for Arsenal, I thought I just need to be Declan Rice, be myself, don’t be any different, everything will go smoothly.

You can understand what he means by it not feeling normal. When you step back from the madness of transfers, it is essentially a wildly expensive cattle market – just with talented football players. I think if I were him though, I’d have been comforted by some of the nonsense that went on before that deal went through. I’d have seen what Man Utd paid for Antony, and what Chelsea paid for Mykhaylo Mudryk and felt confident that if that was their value, the £105m represented a fair price for my talents.

Here we are a few months down the line, and while I can’t say nobody talks about the price-tag having just talked about the price-tag, it’s mentioned in a different way. It feels like an abstraction of some kind. It’s just a thing we all know happened but which isn’t really important in any way. That, of course, is down to both the quality and consistency of his performances. The number from before your name becomes little more than an afterthought when you play really well. Not a single person talks about £105m Declan Rice, but £72m Nicolas Pepe and, unfortunately, £65m Kai Havertz are different.

To be honest, on the rare occasion when I do think about what we paid for Declan Rice – especially when you compare and contrast him to other players in his position who cost the same, or more – I feel like we got a bit of a bargain. Should we throw West Ham another £20m out of guilt? I knew he was a good player, I did not realise quite how good he was – and I suppose it’s worth considering how much impact Mikel Arteta has had on his trajectory too. Rice does what he does, but when you ask him to do it in a different structure from the ones he operated in for West Ham and England, you see other aspects of his game come to the fore.

Obviously I don’t actually advocate giving West Ham any more money, they got what they wanted and they made it tough enough for us in the process. But if Rice keeps going the way he has, and becomes even more important and influential for Arsenal, the money we spent on him might well go down as one of the best investments we’ve ever made – even if it was a figure that made many people uncomfortable before the deal went down.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. We will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast should be out around midday. Until then.

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