DECS APPEAL Where is the midfield boss? Declan Rice has swaggered to the top with a smile on his face… now he faces intriguing battle against the best.

THERE are certain people that you come across in football and you know instantly who they are, what they’re about and what the trajectory of their life is going to be.

Anyone who has worked or grown up with Declan Rice knows that he has always been destined for the top.

Arsenal star Declan Rice is on his way to superstardom
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Arsenal star Declan Rice is on his way to superstardomCredit: Getty

Rice is facing his biggest challenge against Man City star Rodri
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Rice is facing his biggest challenge against Man City star RodriCredit: Getty

Troy Deeney has been very impressed with Rice's performances for Arsenal and England
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Troy Deeney has been very impressed with Rice’s performances for Arsenal and EnglandCredit: AP
When he was at West Ham, he was a centre-half who played in midfield purely to help out and ended up excelling.

The way he used to listen and learn from his old captain Mark Noble and be a student of the game was second to none.

And because of that, whenever I interacted with him on a football pitch, I never felt the need to be disrespectful towards him because there was just a pure will to win.

We would tell each other to “do one” every now and again, but then I would get these weird moments when he would do something special and I couldn’t help but say: “Good touch, mate”.

He had this joyful atmosphere around him which you can see in all of his interviews, even now at Arsenal. You never see him get in trouble, being outlandish, but he has that jokey personality.

He is still quite kiddish at 25, yet with a very serious body and mind in terms of being the best player he can be.

When he was announced as England captain against Belgium, there was no outrage, no shock or surprise or: “Why him?” It was more a sense of: “Yeah, that makes sense”.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is in line to take the armband for his country full-time after Harry Kane moves on, alongside his midfield partner Jude Bellingham.

Those two can drive standards but in the new school way.

They are able to do that, want to kill each other on the pitch, and as soon as it’s over they can smile, shake your hand and say: “Good game mate. You alright?”

They can go back to their normal personality which is juvenile and fun.

The days of your Roy Keane types, intimidating people who were the same on the pitch as they were off it and in life, are long gone. It was very difficult to get any fun out of him.

As a captain, if you keep barking at someone with no praise, then they will eventually snap.

I’ve heard from people who played and worked with Keane that they were always working to get his approval or a nod, and rarely got it.

I compare it to basketball with Michael Jordan and LeBron James — both men ridiculously good.

Jordan had this fear factor and wanted people to be scared. LeBron knew he was better than you but still wanted to be your mate.

Looking back, Keane needed to be that Jordan character in order to be the best version of himself. Now, as a pundit and an ex-pro, he is a good laugh and is more relaxed.

In a weird way, I am probably the last of that old school type. With these young players now, it is a new generation, and they are more jokey.

Rice’s biggest challenge yet

Declan does those Muller Rice TV adverts. He appears on A League of Their Own. You see clips of him singing and dancing in and around training. That’s just who he is.

Look at Tottenham’s James Maddison. He is hell-bent on winning but he plays with a smile on his face. He interacts with the crowd. It’s the new way and it’s cool. It’s a good way.

When they need to work, they work. But then they realise they have the best job in the world and they need to enjoy aspects of it.

Declan must be enjoying himself at Arsenal. He practically runs games for them, and has his biggest test yet against Manchester City’s Rodri on Sunday.

They are both in the top five best holding midfielders in the world, and all Rodri has over Declan right now is that he has won it all and has scored in big, big moments.

Declan has scored a few last-minute winners for the Gunners, but nothing compared to scoring a career-defining winner in a Champions League final, something Rodri did for City last June.

Arsenal go into this City game top but need a win – a buffer – heading into the final stretch, and I only say that because of what happened last year and how they lost it.

Mark my words, City and Liverpool will not drop many points between now and the end of the season, so what a chance it is for Mikel Arteta’s side to take a chunk out of one of their rivals.

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