Creative Soccer Culture

Declan Rice Talks Mental Strength, England, & Revenge On Mason Mount

From being rejected by Chelsea’s academy to now being an established Premier League player with West Ham and a regular in the England senior squad, it's fair to say that at only 20 years old Declan Rice’s journey in the game has already been an eventful one.

Speak of Declan Rice and there will inevitably be someone that raises the hilarious video from Mason Mount that made him viral last summer. But to think only of that is to miss the bigger picture with this prestigious talent. The West Ham enforcer has carved out such a reputation that his name is now regularly linked with some of the biggest clubs in the country. It’s a testament to his mental strength, fortitude, and resilience – something he has in spades, as we found out when we caught up with him after the recent international break.

Declan, it’s been quite an incredible rise to the top since you broke onto the scene. How has your life changed?

I wouldn’t say that it has changed too much to be honest, other than the fact that I’m now a West Ham regular and I play for England seniors. Playing in the Premier League is one of those things that, as a kid, you dream about. But to do it so young, and to play for England as well… they’re the two main things that have stood out in my life so far. They’re the two biggest things that have changed. It’s been an unbelievable rise and one that I’ve dreamt about for a very long time and I just want to stay at the top for as long as I can.

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At 14 I was released by Chelsea. That was a really tough time for me because it was all I’d ever known"

So from the youth academy through to where you are now, what was that journey like?

It was tough. It was never an easy ride. At 14 I was released by Chelsea. That was a really tough time for me because it was all I’d ever known. But moving to West Ham, I’d say now, has turned out to be the best decision of my career. There’s always blips along the way, you’re always going to get hit by stuff, but it’s about how you rise above it and have that strong mentality to come out on top and luckily enough I had that. I had close people around me who were driving me all the time and pushing me to get better, so I owe a lot of thanks to the people around me. 

Like I said though, it’s never been easy. It’s always been a tough road, and it’s still tough now, even at the top. It affects you when you lose and when you don’t play well and you need to refresh your mind and keep doing the best that you can. 

What have you got in your character that helps you to do that, to push back against adversity and essentially keep going until you get to the top?

I think I’ve got a strong mentality. I’m quite strong minded. I don’t really let a lot of things get to me. Because at the end of the day, it’s only a game of football. You’re playing against opposition that, if you play well, that’s a bonus, but if you don’t, you don’t and you need to go over that and reflect on it, but then forget it, because it’s in the past and you need to move on from that. So I’d always say that my mental strength has been one of my toughest things that I’ve had since I was a kid. 

Has life helped you develop that, or is it something that you’ve had from the start?

I think it’s something I’ve had since the start, because I’ve had to deal with a lot of things football-wise since I was a kid: being released, moving away from home, seeing Mum and Dad twice a week. So it’s one of those things that I’ve always had, but I’ve had to develop it to be even stronger. 

You mentioned key people in your life, is there any crucial advice that they gave you that helped you to much on?

I wouldn’t say that there was crucial advice. I’d say that them always being there for me when I needed them [was more important]. My Dad, if I was playing well, he’d always say. I think I needed that when I was younger, because you’d be going home thinking you had a good game, but then my Dad would be telling me no, no you haven’t. And so you’d be wanting to do better. 

But I’d definitely say that Mum and Dad are the ones that have helped me out and been the key figures. They’ve always given me the advice, but they’ve always told me the truth as well. They’ve never hidden me away from anything and they’ve always said it as it is and that’s really helped me. 

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You know what, this might shock you, but the best stadium that I’ve played at in the Premier League is Villa Park"

When you play in the Premier League now, are there moments or particular stadiums where you have to pinch yourself?

You know what, this might shock you, but the best stadium that I’ve played at in the Premier League is Villa Park. First time this season I’ve played at Villa Park and the atmosphere… It was a Monday night and it was absolutely incredible. You hear about the history at Villa Park and the fans, and what they’re like, but the place was roaring all night. It was a great atmosphere to play in.

Do you feel like you thrive in those big occasions?

Yeah, it gives you that bit more energy that you need. The fans cheering, it gives you that extra push to go on and smash someone in a tackle or make a better pass. It just give you that confidence that you need. But it’s not only at Villa Park, you get it at Old Trafford as well when you walk out there. The fans just roar. It gives you goose bumps. It’s ridiculous.

The experiences that you’ve had in football so far, does that make you hungry for more, or does it make it difficult to think that you need to keep pushing?

No, not at all, because there’s so much competition for places in every team. At 20 now, if I was thinking that I’m going to be playing every single game for England I think I’d be looking too far ahead. You need to keep level headed and always know that there’s room for improvement. And it’s the same at club level. If I’m not performing of the pitch, you’re going to be dropped. So, at 20 I’m doing well, but there’s definitely much more to come and I need to keep working hard, that’s for sure.

You’re part of such a strong wave of new, young English talent. Do you get excited about what the future could bring internationally?

Yeah, massively. The players coming through now are unbelievable. You see most of us either playing in the Premier League or playing in the Championship. It’s not going to be long before most people are in the squad. We’ve got a manager who promotes youth, plays youth.  The side we’ve got at the moment is still really young as well and we’re just thriving under the manager at the moment. Overtime we get together it’s a real buzz and a good opportunity to perform as always. The future is definitely bright for English football.

Going back a bit, what were you like as a football fan growing up? Did you have club shirts, England shirts, or were you more one who just wanted to be playing all the time?

When I was younger I had every Chelsea shirt. I was more or less always playing football in kits. England kits, Chelsea kits. I remember when I was younger Joe Cole was one of my favourite players. I had him on pretty much all of my shirts. Then it changed to John Terry, so I had him on a couple of my shirts. But one of the things as a kid is you could even have shirts from different countries. I remember playing in the Brazil shirt with Neymar on the back. That was when he first broke onto the scene.

I’ve always been a big fan of the kits and I’ve always played football in them tops rather than just playing in normal stuff.

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Do you remember getting your first pair of boots?

I think the first pair of boots I ever had were Predators. Beckham ones. I was so young then. Must’ve been about five or six. I remember getting them and playing with my brothers and I still fitted in them when I was first training with Chelsea. Chelsea was sponsored by adidas then, so we started to get the new types of Predators and what not, so I’ve always been in adidas since really.

There was nothing better than turning up and there was four boxes of adidas boots, brand new, fresh, and you were being given them for free instead of having to pay for them. It was a bonus!

Do you remember much about international tournaments from back then?

I remember Euro 2004, when Rooney got sent off from Ronaldo? I remember that being a massive thing. Obviously I was young, so I didn’t understand it as much, but it was when they were at United together and it seemed like a bizarre thing to happen.

World Cup 2006. England. I remember that. What else was there… 2008. The most recent one is the World Cup last summer. If you look at that, the whole country, you speak to most people, they say there’s never been a summer like it. The buzz and the thrill that the team brought to everyone was incredible and now, we’ve got a squad that can excite people at every tournament and we have a real chance now to make some history.

How do you watch your football, is it at home, with friends, family, or do you go out?

To be fair it’s mixed. I watch it at home, watch it with my friends, I watch it with my Mum the most though – she’s football mad. She goes crazy over the football. Every game we watch she’s shouting her head off at the telly. So my favourite person to watch football with is probably my Mum. She’s been around it with my two older brothers all her life, so she’s well into her football and I love watching it with her.

Is there a special moment or a special player that stands out from when you were younger?

When I was in Chelsea’s academy and the first team won the Champions League after their disappointing season in the Premier League, that was probably one of the best memories I’ve ever had. Drogba scoring that header in the last minute and it just felt like everything was meant to be. To win on penalties was special. So I’d probably say that’s the best moment for me that I witnessed in football when I was younger.

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There’s good fun between me and Mason, with him scaring me in the summer, but that’s good to have the banter. He’ll have it coming back to him sometime soon, no doubt about that"

Were there any players that you particularly admired?

When I was younger I always played more attacking, so the player I watched the most was Ronaldinho. People still ask me now if he’s my favourite player ever. He was an unbelievable player, and what he could do with the ball… just so special. But as I got a bit older and my position started to change I really started to look at what John Terry did in his game. The way he passed the ball with both feet, defends, leads the team. So I ‘d say he was really influential as well on how I play football.

And how would you describe yourself off the pitch?

Calm, relaxed, easy to talk to, approachable. Someone you can just have a conversation with easily. I’m just laid back to be honest. Laid back and chilled out about most things.

There’s a bit of a playful side there as well right, with some of the other England lads like Mason…

Yeah, there’s good fun between me and Mase. Obviously there was him scaring me in the summer, but that’s good to have the banter. I wasn’t annoyed at him for letting that go viral. It’s all fun and games. But he’ll have it coming back to him sometime soon, no doubt about that.

What would it mean to you to play for England at the Euros next summer?

Other than the World Cup, it’s the biggest thing. To be crowned the best team in Europe, which is what we’re all striving for, would be unbelievable. I think we’ve got all of our group games at Wembley, and the semi and the final is at Wembley, so we can treat it as a home tournament. And I think that’s going to be a massive plus for us. We’re going to be filling up Wembley, the fans, the whole buzz around the country; I think we’ve got a real chance and it’s something that we’re all going to thrive on in the summer.

How high do you set your standards now that you are where you are?

I think it’s important that I’m playing consistently well on a regular basis. Like I said earlier, if I’m not having a good game then I need to be honest with myself and evaluate and say that yeah, I could’ve done that better, I could have done this better. But I can learn from opposition players that I play against. So the people that are in my position that are already at the top, the likes of Fernandinho, Busquets, Fabinho, Geroginio, all of them. Looking at parts of their game from the experience they’ve got and seeing what I can take and add into my game.

What’s the one thing that you want to achieve more than anything else this season?

I think getting into Europe with West Ham would be really good. West Ham haven’t had that in so long. So to achieve that and get into the Europe slots, whether that’s Europa League or Champions League – although that’s a bit further away. We’ve come off a couple of bad results this season but on the whole we’ve been really good. So Europa League would be really good for us. And or course the big one, the Euros at the end of the season. It’s one of those where you go into it looking to win the tournament and that’s what we want to do and that would be the biggest thing in my career so far if we won that.

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Photography by Joshua Atkins for SoccerBible.

Daniel Jones

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