Declan Rice’s career as a footballer will soon be at a crossroads. On one hand, he can stay at West Ham and simply be run into the ground by Moyes or whoever replaces him. On another hand, he can be a hood ornament on a luxury club like Man City or PSG. Sure, silverware galore, but as in that first case, he won’t develop, grow, or improve. That brings me to the other, other hand—join a club that is quickly become famous for developing young players into superstars. Arsenal have always been renowned for this, but Mikel Arteta is taking things to a whole ‘nother level.
Whether it’s someone plucked from relative obscurity like Gabriel Martinelli (a £6 million diamond in the rough), a highly coveted but fring player at a megaclub like Martin Ødegaard (coveted by Guardiola but surplus to Real Madrid’s desires), a twice-relegated keeper like Aaron Ramsdale, or any of a half-dozen other players, Mikel Arteta doesn’t simply ride his players; he actually coaches them. Look at the meteoric rise we’re seeing from not only those three already mentioned but also Saka, Xhaka, Saliba, Magalhães, Zinchenko, White…it seems like just about every player Arteta touches turns to gold.
To be clear, the cream of the crop will usually rise to the top all on its own. However, the speed with which these players have become among the best in the Prem at their respective positions is surely a testament to Arteta’s expectations, methods, confidence, and so much more. I’m sure we’ve all seen the All Or Nothing series—that only gives us a peek behind the curtain. There must be innumerable other elements to Arteta’s approach that he didn’t want to share with the world. To finish this paragraph with another food idiom, the proof is in the pudding.
During this international break, then, Declan Rice will surely be hearing a lot from Saka and Ramsdale about Arteta’s influence on their respective rises. In that sense, it’s almost a pity that the break is only a fortnight or so. Our own Jack Wilshere weighed in with some of what Saka and Ramsdale are likely to echo:
I think he would be very good under Mikel’s watch. Mikel would develop him, bring him on even more and he would be massive for the team as well. I have had conversations with Dec and told him what he is doing in unbelievable, he is captain of a big Premier League club and is always learning. His future is in his hands and it’s very exciting for him because he’s got everything with him now and he’s picking up more and more, he’s growing into this man who could play anywhere.
Rice is at that critical juncture in his careeer. His next contract will likely cover his prime years. He can look at Harry Kane to see what it’s like to commit himself to a club that will prevent him from winning silverware. He can look at Grealish to see what it’s like to go from talisman to trinket. He can watch Saka and Ramsdale force an Arsenal shirt over him after England’s next win. Too bad they’re not drawn with the Netherlands in the round of qualifiers in June.
For as good as Rice already is, he can only get better, and the right manager will be key to that. Simply—and, I hope, objectively—put, that manager is Arteta. Who is better at nurturing, creating, and curating talent into skill?