As West Ham United’s and Declan Rice’s Europa League dream came to an end in Frankfurt on Thursday evening, so did their dream of a Champions League adventure next season.
The Hammers traveled to Germany knowing that they had to win to stand any chance of reaching the final of the Europa League following their 2-1 defeat in the first leg at the London Stadium seven days earlier. Hampered by Aaron Cresswell’s 17th-minute red card, David Moyes’ side failed to find the goals they needed to get the chance to win their first major European honor since 1965, instead being beaten 1-0 on the night and 3-1 on aggregate .
Rice, like the rest of his teammates, cut a discarded figure at full-time. His dream of lifting the Europa League trophy aloft in Seville was over, as were his hopes of representing the Hammers in the Champions League next season.
READ MORE: Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick responds to Jesse Lingard brother’s Instagram post
The midfielder, who will be hoping to help England win their first trophy since 1966 at the World Cup later this year, is now going to be the subject of even greater speculation over the summer following this result. The best West Ham will be able to offer him next season will be Europa League football, although the Europa Conference League, unfortunately for him and the club, remains a distinct possibility.
Had Manchester United reached greater heights this season and put themselves in the running for Champions League football next term, they could have been rubbing their hands together at Thursday night’s outcome in Frankfurt. Instead, they also face the grim reality of opening their turnstiles on Thursday evenings next term as opposed to Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
It is why their hopes of being able to sign Rice this summer appear slim. The defensive midfielder has been a long-term target for United and there is a genuine feeling that he is the answer to their midfield woes.
While he is renowned for breaking the lines and venturing forward to offer a helping hand in the final third, Rice’s A game is to defend and screen the back-four. It is why he has long since been identified as the player United need.
However, considering this summer promises to be United’s biggest in recent years, with numerous changes needing to be made during Erik ten Hag’s first transfer window at the helm, the prospect of bringing Rice to Old Trafford in a £150million deal has the potential to be a real budget-buster. Admittedly, United will be able to increase the size of their transfer kitty with player sales, with numerous surplus faces set to be offloaded, but investing £150million in one player is unlikely to leave much room to manoeuvre to bring in faces for elsewhere within the squad.
Kalvin Phillips is an alternative option that United are investigating and he could be a more viable and suitable option at this moment in time. But that is not to say United should officially throw their scouting reports on Rice in the bin.
He is out of contract at West Ham in 2024 and unless he puts pen to paper on a new deal, or is snapped up by someone else in the meantime, his price, in line with the length of time remaining on his contract, should decrease , meaning the summer of 2023 could be a more suitable time for United to loosen the purse strings and go all-in for his signature. It is important to remember, however, that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City could also remain significantly interested in his services, offering United competition.
But if Rice does remain at the London Stadium until the summer of 2023 and has one year left on his contract, the 2023 summer transfer window could be United’s perfect opening to secure their man. Furthermore, the 2023 summer window will follow Ten Hag’s first season in the managerial hot seat at Old Trafford, meaning United will have a clear vision of what direction they’ll be heading in under the Dutchman.
If Ten Hag makes an immediate impact and leads United back into the Champions League, it would significantly strengthen their hopes of landing Rice, whilst having made huge progress without having already invested more than £100million. If they don’t, they will be back to square one.
It is a potential gamble that United might have to take. However, if Ten Hag impresses in his first season without someone of Rice’s talent in the engine room, the prospect of adding him for chapter two would only make them stronger.
Sign up to our United newsletter so you never miss an update from Old Trafford this season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.