Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag will likely have been keeping a close eye on a handful of his key men in action during England’s defeat to France on Saturday evening, with the likes of Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford having all featured in that World Cup, quarter-final showdown – as well as Raphael Varane.
Should the Dutchman have watched on as the Three Lions slipped to an agonising loss against the holders, the 52-year-old would also have been able to run the rule over a number of potential transfer targets among the Three Lions’ contingent.
One such figure whom the former Ajax boss may have been paying close attention to is Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, with the 19-year-old – who came close to making the move to Old Trafford back in 2020 – still likely a name firmly on United’s radar.
The teen “superstar” – as described by club legend Roy Keane – enjoyed a real standout tournament as a focal point of Gareth Southgate’s side, having looked as if he had “played 100 times” for the national team such was his immensity maturity, in the words of pundit Gary Neville.
With the former Birmingham City starlet seemingly edging towards a move to rivals Liverpool, however, the focus of Ten Hag’s attention could well have been on another of the club’s long-term targets in the form of Bellingham’s midfield partner, Declan Rice.
The West Ham United skipper has been linked with the Manchester outfit in recent years – including over the summer – with the 23-year-old’s latest displays for his country likely to have only caught the eye of those at the Theatre of Dreams once again.
The 39-cap machine was arguably the glue holding things together in the centre of the park for Gareth Southgate’s side having started all five games in the tournament in Qatar, notably averaging 2.2 interceptions and 1.2 tackles per game in that time.
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The £60k-per-week man – who ranks in the top 7% in Europe for interceptions made among those in his position – also showed his strength in that regard on the world stage as he leads the way among players at the tournament so far with 11 interceptions in total.
A true ball-winning asset, Rice was particularly impressive in that eventual defeat at the hands of Les Bleus yesterday, with the “world-class” gem – as described by journalist Sam Inkersole – having been simply “incredible” on the night, as per journalist Sam Farley.
That ‘magnificent‘ performance – as lauded by the Mirror’s John Cross – saw the Kingston-born menace win five of his eight total duels, while also showcasing his strength in possession after losing the ball on just five occasions.
Although the latter statistic may lead some to suggest the youngster played it safe when on the ball, the 6 foot 1 warrior did more than just keep things tidy after recording six passes into the final third and laying on one key pass from his defensive midfield berth.
To be able to produce such a “monstrous” display – as described by journalist James McManus – in such a pressurised encounter is a testament to Rice’s quality, with the one-time Chelsea man – like Bellingham – again producing displays that belie his relative youth.
Such performances in recent weeks have only further served to showcase just why the likes of United are so interested in his signature, with former defender Paul Parker previously stating that the commanding figure is someone who could take the club to “another level” were he to be snapped up in the near future.
With it looking as if the Hammers may be willing to cash in sooner rather than later – due to the player’s contract situation – it could well prove an opportune time for Ten Hag and co to pounce in 2023.
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