If the rumours are to be believed, Manchester City are set to fail in their efforts to persuade Ajax's Frenkie De Jong to move to the Etihad, paving the way for another young star to be linked to the champions, Declan Rice. However, despite appearing to be Pep Guardoila's second choice to the young Dutchman, Rice would be a more than ideal fit as a long-term replacement for the club's over-reliance on Fernandinho.
Manchester City's title defence came close to derailing in December as they relinquished their lead at the Premier League summit to Liverpool, following back-to-back defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester. The notable absentee from both those fixtures was 33-year-old Fernandinho who, even into his thirties, is an unquestionably vital cog in the machine that is Manchester City.
Guardiola's side boast a plethora of world-class players, rich with quality in all departments, but lacking in defensive midfield. It would require a player of immense talent to overthrow the Brazilian from his position in the staring lineup, yet no long-term replacement is in place for when the ex-Shakhtar player moves on, as their deficiencies became all too evident after his brief spell away with injury.
Step forward Declan Rice. The 19-year-old just signed a new contract with West Ham last month, putting the Hammers in a position to demand a big fee if City come calling. However, Rice is a player undoubtedly destined for greatness, and tailor made to fill the chasm left when Fernandinho's time at Manchester City is eventually up.
Despite having turned out over 50 times for the east London club, Rice is still somewhat inexperienced, but in such an inflated market he could end up proving to be a bargain for City's cash-rich owners. Furthermore, Guardiola will be eager to add more home-grown players to his multi-national side, allowing them to meet the eight homegrown player quota required for their 25-man Premier League squad.
In a West Ham side desperately struggling with inconsistency in the league this season, Rice has blossomed into a player capable of guarding the back line and marshalling those in front with consistency.
The season started poorly for the youngster though, as he was hooked off at half time during West Ham's 4-0 opening day defeat at Liverpool. He missed the following match through injury and was dropped to the bench for the club's next two matches against Arsenal and Wolves, as they fell to their fourth defeat in as many games.
He was recalled to the starting XI in the Hammers' next match, as they recorded an impressive 3-1 away victory against Everton, with Rice producing a man-of-the-match performance. Since then, he has played every minute of every Premier League match for West Ham.
been an unbelievable 2018.. hope everyone has a good new year & all the best for 2019❤️🙌— Declan Rice (@_DeclanRice) December 31, 2018
It's almost unfathomable to think the West Ham youngster is yet to turn 20 as he glides around the pitch with the confidence and demeanour of a player ten years his senior. His energy is matched only by likes of, well, Fernandinho, and his ability to read the game and distribute the ball with precision and speed with either foot means it's no surprise the champions are keen.
While Rice has come on leaps and bounds this season, Hammers' supporters will have known the player from seasons before. He made his first team debut as a 91st minute substitute in West Ham's final game of the 2016/17 season, before going on to feature 26 times for the first team the season after, finishing runner-up to Marko Arnautovic as the club's player of the year.
Rice's prominence in the football world may have arrived a shock to some, however, the player possesses an indispensable quality Guardiola will be warmed to hear, confidence in his own ability.
"I need to have that discipline to play in that holding midfield role and I think that's what the lads and the manager have been impressed by, because I'm so young, and I'm handling it so well," said Rice, speaking in an interview with Sky Sports.
"It's probably come as a surprise to them but for me I've known I can always do it."
Another point of interest for Guardiola is Rice's scope for improvement, at the tender age of 19, Rice is still far from the finished article, but the ex-Barcelona boss is known for his knack of improving players, the likes of Raheem Sterling an evident example of that ability. Never given the credit he deserves for his use in the final third, Fernandinho still offers a goal threat in a side abundant in attacking talent, whereas Rice only scored his first league goal this weekend.
With his growing potential and Premier League experience to boot, the London-born player looks destined for a solid international future, as well as domestic success. If he keeps up this level of performance for the remainder of the season, it could have huge implications on the defensive midfielder's long-term club future. If City do decide to act, they should do so swiftly, as many more will be waiting in the wings for this up and coming gem.