LISTEN to Declan Rice and you could easily come away convinced England will win the Euros.
Gareth Southgate’s midfield anchor man says England are blessed with ‘gobsmacking’ attacking talent, an unusual number of leaders, extreme levels of fitness and a newfound ability to deal with tournament lockdown.
We have heard similar positivity before tournaments in the past, of course.
But West Ham man Rice is adamant England’s current crop — many of whom reached the last four of the 2018 World Cup — are not concerned with the failings of the ‘Golden Generation’, which never made a semi-final in the noughties.
Southgate’s men prepare to face Poland in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Wednesday night, their final competitive match before the Euros kick off in June.
They have been tested very little against top-level opposition over the past two years.
But England are ranked third in Europe behind Belgium and France — and Rice is glowing about the squad’s talent and character.
Rice, 22, said: “When you are training with them, you take a step back and look at the attacking players we’ve got and you are gobsmacked by the talent they have.
“But now, it’s about going out on to the international stage and putting it into a trophy. There has always been talk of the Golden Generation failing — but we don’t look too much into that.
“We know we have enough quality to beat any team in the world. It is just about doing it on the day.
“There is a lot of pressure in tournaments. Can we stick to the game plan and put on a performance?
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“But some of the players here… I’m always watching games and people like Phil Foden. He’s amazing to watch.
“The goal the other week City scored against Monchengladbach, where he took it on the back foot, dribbled and slipped it to Ilkay Gundogan was just a breath of fresh air to watch a player do that. He is an incredible player.”
And while it is often claimed modern football lacks ‘leaders’, Rice insists England possess an abundance of them.
Rice is skippering West Ham in the absence of club captain Mark Noble, Harry Maguire captains Manchester United, Conor Coady skippers Wolves, James Ward-Prowse has the armband at Southampton, while Mason Mount has captained Chelsea.
And the currently injured duo of Jordan Henderson and Jack Grealish captain Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively.
Rice says his father, Sean, has drummed into him the need to be vocal on the pitch.
He said: “It’s something that Dad has been on to me about since I was a kid.
“Still, to this day, I will get a text from Dad before a game, a long paragraph saying ‘start well, talk, always be loud’. 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’.
“We have so many leaders, so many who are captains of their clubs.
“That’s very important, especially going into a tournament, that we have so much experience, so many captains who step up to help each other out.”
Rice claims lockdown has helped him become fitter and more focused.
And he believes the old chestnut about English players struggling with the lack of freedom in a tournament camp is now a thing of the past after the pandemic.
He said: “Yeah, the experiences we’ve had can definitely help.
“When the first lockdown started and the season got suspended with about ten games to go, West Ham were in a relegation battle.
“We were always in dialogue with the fitness coach and in that period I probably got myself the fittest that I have ever been.
“You could sit at home and see it as relaxation and time off but that wasn’t the case.
“We really didn’t want to go down to the Championship.
“It was a real chance without football to nail down things like your fitness.
“We came back in so fit, raring to go and managed to stay up. This season we’ve managed to go to another level again fitness wise.
“Lockdown, especially in that first period, definitely helped.
“I’ve been really fortunate to play every game for West Ham.
“I’ve realised how important off-the-pitch stuff is — how you live your life away from football.
“What you do to boost your recovery to make you feel fitter. I’ve got in the gym more, tried to take that side more seriously.”
Rice’s on-loan West Ham team-mate Jesse Lingard could prove a wildcard in Southgate’s plans, after forcing his way in from the cold.
He’s just got that infectious personality and the lads have really bought in to him — they all love him
And Rice reckons the Manchester United midfielder is misunderstood because of his image on social media.
Rice said: “I think people have the wrong perception of what Jesse is like from social media.
“Now having him at West Ham, he’s just got that infectious personality and the lads have really bought in to him — they all love him.
“He has been away from the England squad for two years and all the lads are buzzing to see him. He is making everyone laugh.
“And there’s no doubt he is one of the best players in the league in terms of form.”
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