Declan Rice being let go by Chelsea as a teenager is well-publicised but what many don’t know is that West Ham almost did the same to him.
Less than ten years ago, Rice was wondering what he had done wrong and whether he’d even have a football career having been let go by Chelsea as a 14-year-old.
Things have turned out okay for Rice, who now stars for West Ham and England but it could’ve been very different having revealed to Gary Neville that he was close to being released by the Hammers too.
“I first went to Chelsea when I was eight, but that was because my cousin Taylor was already at Chelsea and his dad Nick put in a good word for me,” the 23-year-old on The Overlap podcast.
“It wasn’t straight in the academy, it was like a foundation thing, once or twice a week and they really liked the look of me and gave me a six week trial and at the end of the six weeks we played Swindon and beat them like 9-1.
“Jim Fraser at the time, the academy manager, came up to me and said ‘look we want to offer you a contract’.
“It was crazy, absolutely unbelievable, just because of the fact I had never played Sunday league football or mini-leagues.
“So to go from doing nothing into a little full-time programme, training Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays then playing Sundays, it was a bit of a whirlwind really.”
As time went on, Rice felt ever more confident in a blue shirt until one fateful day where his father told him that Chelsea were no longer interested in his services.
Naturally he was upset but Rice went training with Fulham the very same evening he found out about the news, before going to West Ham the next day.
“Extremely tough, being released at 14 by Chelsea,” he added.
“[It was] something I didn’t expect at all, it was all I ever knew as a kid, it was my whole life, going there, training, the mates I met.
“I felt like that was it, I was gutted, I remember my dad coming home and telling me that was it.
“That night I got released, I went and trained with Fulham on Wednesday and then on Thursday I was with West Ham. My dad drove me to Chapel Heath and I was gutted but I needed to kick on and push again.”
“You know how do you tell your friends that you’ve been released by Chelsea?” he added.
“That was a tough one… like I said at Chelsea as a kid, it was all I ever knew so I thought where am I going to go, what am I going to do from here?
“To this day, I still honestly don’t know the exact reason [why they let me go], I wish I did.
“I think it was probably down to the fact that as a kid, I was tiny, I was going through a massive growth spurt at the time.
“My body wasn’t all connected together, my running pattern was really weird. My technical ability was fine, in terms of the physical aspect of it, the running, I was struggling, I couldn’t keep up with other kids.
“I think maybe in the end maybe that was the thing they thought I couldn’t probably grow out of.”
Rice also revealed he now helps those who went through the same heartache as he did.
“I’ve had conversations with kids in the academy at West Ham. Just in terms of general stuff about whether they’re going to be leaving to go on loan, or whether they’re not going to get a new deal with West Ham.
“Obviously they’re a bit older than what I was but I feel like I’ve been in that position before.
“I know what it’s like and I know the experience, so if I can help anyone and give him my advice on it and give him my support, I’ll always try and do that.”
However, just two years after being let go by Chelsea, Rice and West Ham almost parted ways.
“It was always really tough for me at West Ham because even they were going to release me as well,” he continued.
“I don’t think anyone knows that. At 16… I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about this.
“It was a 50/50 decision. Half the coaches were saying ‘keep him on’ and half the coaches were saying ‘we’re not too sure’.
“I played a game against Fulham, I was 16 but I played for the under-18s that day, I played at centre-half and after that I was given my scholarship.
“But there were five other lads who were given a one year scholarship and a three year pro, and I only ever got a two-year scholarship to start with.
“I knew when that happened that I needed to work to get that pro contract, so I had something I was always pushing for, always driving myself on to get better, doing extra work.
“And then once I got my first pro contract, I’d worked so hard for it, I was playing really well, and I just pushed on again and within a year I signed another pro contract.
“But I felt like me not having that pro contract to start with really did help. I wasn’t complacent, I always wanted to get to the next level.”
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