Declan Rice’s future has been one of the biggest ongoing transfer stories of the past 18 months, with the West Ham midfielder perpetually being linked with a move away from the London Stadium.
Some of the biggest names in English and indeed world football have been rumoured to be interested in the 23-year old, including both Manchester City and Manchester United, as well as Chelsea, Liverpool and even Newcastle United.
Rice, who is currently with the England men’s national team ahead of their upcoming friendlies with Switzerland and Ivory Coast, joined the Hammers’ youth academy from Chelsea in 2014, and has gone on to make 183 first team appearances since his senior debut in 2017.
The latest speculation is that it will take a whopping £150m for West Ham to accept an offer while Rice’s preference would be a return to boyhood club Chelsea despite their ongoing financial and ownership issues.
That fee would be six times the club’s current record sale, which was £25m for Dimitri Payet to Marseille in 2017, and would see Rice smash the record transfer fee for an English player - eclipsing the £100m that Manchester City paid Aston Villa for Jack Grealish last summer.
The big question now surrounding the player is where will he go if he does leave the Hammers? Which club is best placed to sign the England midfielder and who is most in need of his services?
Here we have looked at the five clubs who have most consistently been linked Rice since last summer and given our verdict on how likely it is that they could make the move:
Today’s reports suggest that Chelsea, where Rice started his career in the youth academy, are the player’s preferred destination should he leave West Ham.
The news comes despite the current uncertainty at Stamford Bridge, after owner Roman Abramovich put the club up for sale ahead of the UK Government freezing his UK assets.
The Blues remain the favourites to sign Rice in the summer despite currently being unable to sign players, as they continue to weigh up the five confirmed bids for the club.
Rice will almost certainly want to be playing in the Champions League if he does leave West Ham ,and their London rivals are well on track to qualify for UEFA’s top competition next season.
The player was also a Chelsea fan growing up, and maintains a close friendship with Blues star and childhood friend Mason Mount.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is also on record as being an admirer of Rice, so this potential deal could come down to the Blues’ financial outlook next season when and if their ownership situation has been resolved.
The Red Devils are another of the three main clubs who have been linked with Rice over the past year and a half and could provide the best fit for the player.
There is uncertainty as to whether Paul Pogba will still be a Manchester United player next season - if the Frenchman does depart, there could be a huge gap in their midfield to fill.
Rice seems like the logical target, should the club look to sign a new midfield star in the summer.
However, the main priority at Old Trafford right now is finding a new head coach to lead the club next season and take over from interim boss Ralph Rangnick.
Former Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino and current Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag are the current front-runners for the role.
Although the head coach is not the be all and end all when it comes to transfers these days, it’s unlikely that the club’s hierarchy would sanction such an expensive transfer if the man in the dugout was not totally behind it.
On top of that, United are currently in a battle to qualify for the Champions League next season and would be a far less appealing prospect if they do not secure a top four finish.
Although United and Chelsea are believed to be the two front-runners, it is the current league leaders who seem best placed at this moment in time to pursue their interest.
Unlike the Blues and their city rivals, there is no uncertainty at the Etihad right now with Pep Guardiola secure in his role and their ownership seemingly comfortable.
City will be in the Champions League next season and are currently competing for the league title which they will be expected to do again next season with or without Rice.
The £150m price tag is clearly no stumbling block either and although their midfield is already stacked with world class talent, that is unlikely to prevent them from wanting to strengthen further.
However, City are expected to prioritise the signing of a forward this summer, specifically Borussia Dortmund superstar Erling Haaland.
The fee for the Norwegian is expected to be substantial and, although the club does have a seemingly bottomless pit of money, there are rule and regulations in place that would limit their spending in one window.
United, City and Chelsea are currently viewed as the three favourites in the race to sign Rice but Liverpool have also been in the conversation.
The Reds are absolutely stacked with attacking talent while their defence has been solid enough, conceding just 20 goals so far this Premier League season.
It would be unfair to say their midfield has been of great concern but it is by far the least impressive area of the team and a new star man in the middle of the park would be greatly received by supporters.
They will also be competing in the Champions League next season and likely pursuing the league title, so it seems like a perfect fit for Rice.
However, the reported price-tag would represent a serious commitment from the Merseyside club and would be double their current record fee which was £75m for Virgil van Dijk in 2018.
Signing Rice could be a case of putting all their eggs in one basket if they went for it in the summer and, although his quality is not up for dispute, is he worth that much to Jurgen Klopp’s side?
The mega-rich North East club are thought to be looking for a marquee signing in the summer after an underwhelming but so largely successful first transfer window under their new ownership back in January.
Everyone from the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Neymar to Rice have been linked with a move to St James’ Park and they could certainly afford the £150m asking price.
Similarly to City though, regulations prevent them going above a certain threshold and that much cash on one player might not be so wise when they realistically need to strengthen across the whole squad.
Fundamentally though, it doesn’t seem like a move the player would be keen on with the Magpies still some way behind the standard of the other clubs in the running.
They also won’t be paying European football next season and a move north would be viewed as a step backwards from West Ham based on the current standings of the two clubs.