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Declan Rice relishing "healthy competition" for England spots

Declan Rice relishing
© Reuters
The West Ham midfielder is developing into a key component of Gareth Southgate's England side.

Declan Rice insists he is not taking a place in England’s Euro 2020 squad for granted.

The West Ham midfielder has started eight of the last 10 internationals as he develops into a key component of Gareth Southgate’s side.

Rice is likely to keep his place for Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier at home to Poland, the last game for the Three Lions before Southgate names his squad for the rescheduled European Championship this summer.

But – even with fitness concerns over Liverpool captain and fellow midfielder Jordan Henderson – Rice is not ready to rest on his laurels when it comes to the finals.

Asked if he was confident of being in the Euros team, Rice replied: “No, I don’t think you can ever think like that.

“We have got such a strong squad and such strong competition in the middle. Healthy competition, competition that you want leading into a European Championship.”

Rice has been the driving force for the Hammers this season, with David Moyes’ men surprise contenders for a top-four finish in the Premier League.

The 22-year-old is an ever-present in the league campaign so far and has no concerns with playing twice in four days for his country on top of the minutes racked up at the London Stadium.

“Two games in four days? We are used to that at club level,” he said.

Declan Rice
Declan Rice has been a driving force behind West Ham’s push for Europe (Mike Hewitt/PA)

“We’ve maintained our fitness this season so it’s not been a problem at all and if picked, I will be ready to go out there and give my best job for the team.”

Rice was faced with becoming an internet meme after the weekend win in Albania.

As England celebrated a goal in the 2-0 victory, Rice put up his hand for a high five only to be roundly ignored by his team-mates.

“It was funny because as we were on the plane and just about to leave Albania, Harry Kane, I didn’t think he’d seen what had happened and he’s seen the video and called me and said, ‘Dec, sorry mate’,” he said.

“I turned round to him and had a bit of a laugh. Like I said to the boss, I’ve been turned into a meme again.

“We had the one with Mason (Mount) scaring me and obviously now I’ve been left hanging, so I need to improve on that front.”

Rice when then asked about the darker side of social media, which has seen players targeted for abuse at a growing rate.

Former Arsenal captain Thierry Henry left all of his platforms earlier this week after saying enough had not been done to tackle racist abuse across social media sites.

“I think something definitely has to be done,” added Rice. “There has been way too much social media abuse, in the last year especially.

“For someone like me, who runs my own account and has that interaction and love with the fans, I don’t have any problems with social media.

“I think it’s important that a player like me can have that interaction with West Ham fans and England fans.

“But yes, Thierry Henry has obviously boycotted it and I saw (Gareth) Bale came out and say something. It’s maybe a decision that will be spoken about in the future by the players.”

With Henderson’s participation as yet unknown, Rice has been touted as a potential vice-captain for England at the Euros.

He has skippered West Ham this season and revealed his father has always been the one pushing him to be a leader.

“It’s just something my dad has always been on to me about as a kid,” he said.

“Still to this day I will still get a text from my dad before the game, a long paragraph, ‘start well…talk….always be loud’ and little pointers.

“That’s still to this day. That has always been ingrained in me since I was in the academy as a kid, at Chelsea, at West Ham, just ‘be loud and always help out the team’.

“When I came to England, we have so many leaders, so many who are captains of their clubs, so that’s very important, especially going into a tournament that we have got so much experience, so many captains, where we step up and try to help each other out.”

Michail Antonio file photo
Rice has backed Hammers team-mate Michail Antonio to make the right impression with Jamaica (Alex Panting/PA)

While Rice has been joined in the current squad by Jesse Lingard – currently on loan at West Ham from Manchester United – fellow team-mate Michail Antonio is not around.

The forward was called up by England in 2016 but was not capped and recently opted to pledge his international allegiance to Jamaica.

“It’s not one I’ve ever really spoken to him about,” Rice replied when asked about Antonio’s decision.

“Obviously he was called up but never really got the chance to come on and play. He’s such a handful.

“I see it every day in training. He’s so strong. He holds the ball up well. He makes efficient runs in behind. He’s a defender’s worst nightmare. But he’s chosen his allegiance with Jamaica now. I’m sure he’s going to have a great time there.

“We’ve got other strikers that pledged themselves to England that haven’t got in the squad lately who can easily fill the boots of Antonio, so we’re well prepared with strikers.”

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