West Ham assistant coach Stuart Pearce believes Declan Rice is currently playing at a level that exceeds Roy Keane at the same age.
The 22-year-old has established himself as West Ham’s most important player across the past few seasons, with the England international the very heartbeat of David Moyes’ midfield, captain on matchdays in place of an ageing Mark Noble and fan favourite thanks to his passion, commitment and consistency.
This season alone non-West Ham fans have started to understand the hype around a player who, for a long period, was considered a sideways-pass merchant by casual observers, which could not be further from the truth, and never has been, for the club’s talismanic engine.
For context, Rice is the only Premier League player this season who has registered 10 or more clearances, tackles, interceptions, aerial duels won, chances created, take-ons completed and touches in the opposition box, while he also has three goals and three assists in all competitions.
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His most recent performance for the club culminated in the Hammers thrashing 10-man Aston Villa 4-1, with Rice getting his name on the scoresheet with a laser-guided strike into the far corner and an assist after breaking the Villans’ midfield line with a surging run before spreading the play to Ben Johnson.
He has been generating praise all campaign, with West Ham sitting fourth in the Premier League table, first in Group H of the Europa League and through the the quarter finals of the League Cup having eliminated both Manchester clubs, but Pearce has taken the plaudits up a notch.
The West Ham coach believes his midfield maestro is currently operating at a level that surpasses a 22-year-old Roy Keane, while he also compared him to another Manchester United legend in the form of Bryan Robson.
“[Rice can go] as far as he wants,” Pearce told talkSPORT.
“Every game he takes the field the expectation from me [is that] he needs to be the best player on the pitch, in every game. He’s got the tools to do that, the stature to do it. He’s got everything. He is an absolute pleasure to work with at this place. He drives us in midfield.
“I was sat next to [West Ham coach] Billy McKinlay at the weekend and he said to me: ‘Is he as good as Roy Keane at the same age?’ I said I think he is probably slightly better.
“We had Roy at Forest with us before he moved on to Manchester United and I’d have to say he is slightly better than Roy. Whether he’ll have the career that Roy had… it is all there for him though. He’s got to stay fit, keep learning and progressing.
“This season we’re fortunate that he’s added a couple of goals to his game which I always thought he had the ability to do so. He drives past people, he breaks things up, he’s just an all-round midfielder. He’s probably a Bryan Robson of yesteryear.”