Clubs, Declan Rice, English Premier League, Manchester United, Story, Transfers, West Ham United

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BURTON, England — Declan Rice has played down talk of a move away from West Ham amid interest from Manchester United.

The midfielder, who is preparing for the Nations League finals with England, has been linked with a move to Old Trafford as part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s summer shake up, but the 20-year-old insists he is not thinking of leaving the London Stadium.

“I know there is speculation,” Rice said on Tuesday.

“During the season last year I signed a five-year contract with West Ham. My focus is fully on playing for West Ham. I’ve got a great connection with the fans — I love them, they love me.

“That’s the way it is at the moment. I’m not thinking about anything else.”

Rice has enjoyed a spectacular rise this season — despite his campaign beginning on a sour note after being substituted at half-time during West Ham’s 4-0 defeat to Liverpool on the opening day.

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He was left out for the next three Premier League games by manager Manuel Pellegrini before returning against Everton to nail down his place for the rest of the season and earn a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad.

“After the game against Liverpool I thought I wasn’t cut out for the Premier League,” said Rice.

“The transfer window was still open and I was honestly thinking about going to speak to the manager to go on loan somewhere.

“The manager said I would get another chance and I had to keep working and that’s what I did.

“I got my head down and that opportunity came against Everton and I haven’t looked back since.”

Rice has been capped twice by England since switching his international affiliation from Republic of Ireland in February.

After starting the 5-1 win over Montenegro in March, he is in line to get the nod in the Nations League semifinal against Netherlands in Guimaraes on June 6 — a clash that could see him come up against Frenkie de Jong, who has sealed a €75 million move to Barcelona after starring in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semifinals.

“De Jong has got his move to Barcelona and it’s fully deserved,” said Rice.

“He’s a top, top player and it will be great to come up against him in the Nations League.

“When you start out in football, you always want to play at the top — play in the Champions League. If you were in football and you didn’t want to do that there would be no point playing.

“The Nations League is massive. It’s really important. We’ve got ourselves into the semifinal. We’ve got a massive chance now to create history.

“With the squad Gareth has put together, with the players that we have, for sure we’ve got to be looking at the Nations League and winning it.

“It would stand us in good stead for the future and the Euros next year and the World Cup after that.”

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