What is the point of Declan Nice?

Published: Monday, 01 January 2024

Let’s get this clear straight away, I’m a huge fan of Declan Rice. I think he’s a Rolls-Royce. I said when Arsenal signed him that he was the best piece of business any club had done in that window. He’s class. But he’s also wasted playing for Arsenal right now.

What is the point of paying £110m for a player only to get him to tippy-tappy about in mid-field doing what a bang ordinary jobber could do?

I’ve watched Rice closely this season - very closely on Sunday at Fulham. All he did for 90 minutes at Craven Cottage was drop between his centre-backs, pick up a sideways pass from them - knock it into Odegaard - get it back - knock it sideways or back again, before repeating the process time and time again. Why?

I remember Graeme Souness telling me what happened after his debut at Liverpool, when he’d done that for an entire 90 minutes. Liverpool’s scary coach then was a guy called Ronnie Moran. No-one messed with Moran.

He pulled Graeme after that first game and asked him what on earth he was doing dropping deep to take the ball off Emlyn Hughes? ‘He plays for his country son’, he told Souness. ‘Don’t you think he can pass a ball sideways and backwards across 10 yards? He doesn’t need you to help him do it’.

The message was clear - get up the field and do some damage where you can really hurt people. He didn’t mean physically - he meant with his football. It’s often overlooked that Souness was a top player as well as an occasional classy thug. 😂.

Rice didn’t do anything to hurt Fulham. Nothing. Not one raking pass. Not one crunching challenge. Not one shot at goal. Nothing. So what’s the point of him? He’s become Declan Nice.

He’s got everything required to be a top footballer. He should be getting hold of games the way Vieira used to. The way Souness did. The way so many other 6’s have down the years. He’s got the lot - height and energy. He can see a proper pass. And he’s got the muscle to get into people and break attacks down. But he doesn’t do anything at the moment except trickle balls sideways and backwards.

It’s a travesty. I know why he does it - because he plays in a ‘nice’ team for a ‘nice’ manager, who played ‘nice’ football himself. And ‘nice’ can be very easy on the eye. City play that way - so did Barcelona and I guess mini-me wants to replicate what Guardiola has done with his teams - except he forgets that Barca had Busquets and City had Fernandinho before Rodri. All three could play a bit as well as do the dirty things. Guardiola has always built teams that had an edge.

If Rice wants to be mentioned in the same breath as those players he’s got to step up to another level. He’s coasting right now. Whether that’s because mini-me only wants that I don’t know, but it seems an awful waste of a top player and £110m - a guy that got his move to Arsenal because of the way he played at West Ham - driving them to a European trophy last season and helping turn them into a real presence in the PL. Come on Dec - your country will need you next summer and Arsenal do right now.

At the time of writing Liverpool haven’t played, but it’s been a great Christmas for them. Only City have turned the heat up. Villa were poor against Luton and how on earth did they get beaten by United? They were cruising at 2-0 but imploded. United didn’t win that game - Villa lost it, gift wrapping the three goals that beat them.

And they weren’t much better in the Burnley game - needing a very generous pen to get over the line. I hope they keep their challenge up, but they might need re-enforcements to do it and a different philosophy if they’re going to manage games properly.

I’ve nothing to say about United - other than - the manager is deluded and somebody should put both him and United’s long suffering fans out of their misery. Is there anyone left that doesn’t agree with me now about the Dutchman?

I mentioned Newcastle’s issues in my last blog. I hope Eddie Howe sorts them out but it’s not looking good is it?

Roy Hodgson ploughs on despite the speculation that Palace might be making a change. Good on him. And well done Steve Parrish for not panicking.

Nuno couldn’t have had a much better start. I must admit that I was a bit surprised by Forest’s choice to replace Steve Cooper, but so far so good.

As for Cooper - he can hold his head high knowing that he couldn’t have done any more at Forest. Perhaps it was the right call to take him out of the firing line, but he’ll be back and on his own terms. He’s earned the right to dictate what comes next.

Chelsea Tenth stumble on - with a Poch no nearer to finding a settled team. Cole Palmer remains the only good thing that’s happened so far in their season.

What a job Gary O’Neil continues to do at Wolves. And despite the set-back at Spurs, fair play to Andoni Iraola at Bournemouth, but I think he’ll need to hang on to Dominic Solanke to keep it going.

As you all know, I’ve never had any doubts about Everton, despite the 10-point deduction, but they’ve got to be careful now. They need a couple of big results again when we get going after the FA Cup break.

And finally - a mention for two Nigel‘s. Check out Mansfield and Tranmere in League Two. Nigel Clough is simply class - a real gentleman with honourable principles. It’s brilliant to see his team chasing an automatic promotion place.

As for Nigel Adkins (the physio) - he’s had a few ups and downs in his career. He was on his arse when he got the Tranmere job again - and so were they. Not anymore. Is a play-off place out of the question. I hope not. Adkins and my old mate Mark Palios would deserve that.