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Sometimes, links with bigger clubs change the lenses through which fans view a player. If a player isn’t living up to the links to bigger clubs, he’s seen to be an average player. Declan Rice probably is a classic example of that. At the age of 21, he’s sometimes unfairly judged by many even if he’s a West Ham player.

It isn’t his fault that he gets judged unfairly sometimes. Links with Manchester United and Manchester City shape the way fans see him and a single poor performance can get him labelled as a fraud by social media warriors. In a lot of ways, Rice isn’t as overrated as he’s overvalued. Drawing links with big clubs do increase players’ value and that plays a role in forming perceptions. Some of the top Bundesliga tips are suggesting Rice’s future might be in Germany.

The 21-year-old has been a regular for the Hammers in the midfield this season. Playing alongside the experienced Mark Noble has become a week in, week out thing for him largely because of West Ham’s lack of depth in midfield. That depth only came in January, when the club brought in Tomas Soucek from Slavia Prague.

Rice has made 25 Premier League appearances, playing as many as 2250 minutes. In a West Ham side that has regularly been using a 4-2-3-1 shape, he’s been a constant playing in deeper midfield. While there have been variations, but the pairing of Rice and Noble has stayed right there.

One thing Rice has improved is his passing. Last season, the England international played 44.6 passes with an accuracy of 86.4 percent. This season, he’s playing 47.6 passes per game with an even higher accuracy of 87.3 percent. He’s got into crossing positions this season, playing 0.2 crosses and coming up with 3.4 long-balls per game.

While that part has improved, there is a general perception that he’s not been as good off the ball this season too. But stats show that it isn’t the case. In fact, there has been an improvement in that regard too.

He’s made 3.1 tackles per game this season, making two interceptions for the Hammers. Both these numbers were lower last season, even though the difference isn’t too prominent. The tackling and interception percentage is quite the same as last season, but the number of times he attempts those tackles is higher.

Former West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini did emphasise on the need for fans to know that he’s still learning as a player. He said in an interview: “As a young player he will always be learning, but at this moment I think he is a complete player.

“At this moment, his performances are better than every English holding midfielder.

“Maybe there are other foreign players in big teams that are also playing well, like Fernandinho, but we are just starting to see what will be with Declan in the future.”

While that is huge praise, Rice certainly is one of a kind for the England national team. They don’t really have a holding midfielder in the side. Eric Dier was seen as an option some years ago, but the Tottenham man is far from his best. His teammate Harry Winks isn’t seen as a proper defensive midfielder either.

It is also easy to forget that Rice is still 21 and he isn’t helped by the lack of depth the club has had in that department. There has been a certain bit of over-reliance on him as there has been this season. While that certainly makes a player more mature, it leaves him exposed in too many games in a short amount of time.

It isn’t a fair assessment that Rice is an overrated player. Fans are either expecting too much or believing in false narratives.