After a season and summer full of speculation, Declan Rice is moving to Arsenal. They will be getting a top-class midfielder who could be the missing piece to their title race.
It’s also another example of the Prem tax that has characterized the market dominance of the league.
West Ham’s European triumph was always going to bring an end to the Rice era. This past month was only going to be a chance for the Hammers to get the largest return for him.
While, at times, he was seen as overrated over the past few seasons, Rice was one of the best midfielders in the Prem last year. His ability to break up play and push the ball forward will give Arsenal another dynamic force in the middle. Without a doubt, Rice is an upgrade on Partey, as he is a more well-rounded player.
Rice is certainly one of the more intriguing talents in world football, but is he worth the fee? Very few players are worth that astronomical fee, but that’s the going rate in this inflated market. The Prem is in its own atmosphere when it comes to revenue, so the fees paid will always be higher.
Arsenal got their defensive mid of the future, and West Ham got a hefty fee to continue fulfilling Moyes’ vision.
It’s a fair deal that will always be overshadowed by the fee.
Partey and Xhaka both represent attempts by Arsenal to replace Vieira’s role in the side close to a decade after he left. Neither player could even come close to replicating the legend, but Rice has the most similar skillset to the Frenchman.
What brought Rice to the attention of football fans was his ability to read the opponent and stop their attacks. At such a young age, he is capable of anticipating play like a seasoned veteran such as Casemiro. With his size, one could expect him to lack agility, but Rice is agile enough to make his large frame felt in crunching tackles.
The numbers show a 24-year-old who is already an elite player in the Prem. Among midfielders, Rice is in the upper echelon of interceptions and clearances. Mix that with a high number of tackles per game and blocks, and a picture of a more traditional defensive mid is beginning to take shape.
His game isn’t a total throwback; the ability to be a positive playmaker shows shades of the modern defensive midfielder. Upon winning the ball, Rice is always looking to move the ball forward. This allows his team to launch quick counters and turn defense into offense.
While not as elite as defensive numbers, there are some real positives to take from his passing numbers. Evidence of his ability to keep play going is found in his progressive play stats, which are among the best in the Prem. Rice is not the midfield maestro as his English teammate Jude Bellingham, but he does his role well enough.
Arsenal has potentially found the player who could complete Arteta’s vision. He is a unique prospect who is the prototypical modern midfield anchor.
The bidding war between Manchester City and Arsenal shows one thing, the Prem tax is quite real. A variety of reasons exist as to why Prem clubs can launch exuberant bids, but it shows the growing gap between Prem and the rest of Europe.
Jude Bellingham’s transfer to Real Madrid is perhaps the best comparison to Rice’s move. Off the bat, it must be said that Bellingham is a better player and prospect than Rice. Bellingham will be one of the best players in the world soon and has already proven so much.
However, Rice’s base transfer is close to 20 million more than Bellingham’s. Real Madrid paid less for a player that is younger and more accomplished player, who will only make them better. Arsenal are getting a fine player, but not a top-10 talent for a higher fee.
How is it possible that a player of Bellingham’s ilk is valued less than Rice? It all comes back down to the Prem.
There, seemingly, exists a cycle of dominance in European football. For a decade, the Serie A might rule, and next, it’ll be La Liga. Although they haven’t totally dominated football on the pitch, the Prem is clearly the global leader in revenue.
From its start, the Prem was created as a way to better sell TV rights and build a whole new revenue model. It did take a few decades, but the English league is now in its own financial solar system. With a firm grip on TV markets and a constant flow of investors, clubs become flush with cash that they can now spend on acquiring talents for fees that make no sense.
Rice’s transfer is a fine one, but it’s emblematic of the grip that the Prem has on the economics of the game. It’s fascinating to compare the transfers of Bellingham and Rice because so much of the modern landscape of football can be explained.
For a lot of fans, this is the first domino to fall in the Prem’s transfer window. Arsenal may have had to pay a high price for the Englishman, but his skill set can help the club reach new heights.
With new investors flooding football, there’s a possibility that the Prem can continue its iron grip on the sport.
Photo: Getty Images