Argentine full-back Pablo Zabaleta has heaped praise on 18-year-old defender Declan Rice, after being impressed with the youngster's performances so far this season.
Zabaleta joined West Ham this summer after ending a nine-year spell with Manchester City, having moved to the Etihad Stadium from Espanyol in 2008. Impressed by his new teammate, the Argentine international is confident that Rice can become a key part of the Hammers set up for years to come, according to the Independent.
Having featured in West Ham's opening two fixtures this season, Rice, a former Chelsea youth player, has also received praise from club chairman David Gold.
"To be honest, I love him," Zabaleta said. "He’s young but he has got that personality that you need to play with the first team. He came on against Manchester United and he was always asking for the ball, switching the ball from one side to the other, he looks really confident and that’s good.
"I love young players coming through from the Academy and showing that they want to do well, so hopefully we can help him as much as we can, and I’m sure he will be a very important player for West Ham over the years to come."
West Ham were unlucky to leave St Mary's Stadium without a point on Saturday, having conceded a late penalty that gave the Saints a narrow 3-2 victory.
Let down by the ill disciplined Marko Arnautović, star striker Javier Hernández appeared to save West Ham's blushes by scoring an impressive brace. However, Charlie Austin converted a late penalty that leaves the Hammers with no points after the opening two fixtures this season.