There was a moment when it ‘clicked’. It came in the away dressing room at Newcastle United on the opening weekend of the season. Rice had only been back in training two weeks, after his exertions at Euro 2020 and West Ham were 2-1 down.
“After I played in the final [of the Euros] and I got a lot of praise, it was like ‘if I can do this on a European stage, in a final, with no nerves and go out there and do what I have just done then I can do it easily in the Premier League’,” Rice reasons.
“It took me half a game. At half-time I was a bit rusty but I remember in the second half it took off. I just felt unstoppable. I was doing things with the ball, dribbling past players, starting attacks, running past people. It felt like everything fell into place.
“What I had done in the Euros final, it felt like it just clicked. I just thought from there that if I carry on like this I don’t feel that anyone, when I am on my game, can stop me. From the first game this season I have had that confidence and it has just built and built and built.
“I feel like this season I have matured, I have pretty much grown into a man now. I have been doing things that people obviously didn’t think I could do on a football pitch but I have known myself I can do it.”
‘When Jorginho missed I thought we would win the Euros’
West Ham went on to win 4-2 at St James Park and are enjoying another impressive season, lying fifth in the league ahead of Saturday’s away game at Crystal Palace – Rice’s 150th game for the club, the youngest player ever to achieve that milestone. The club are also into the last 16 of the Europa League as they set about building on last season’s impressive progress under Moyes.
But much more of them later. First there are the Euros and Rice’s abiding memories of England’s campaign, which came so close to delivering a first major trophy for 55 years.
The moment that stands out came in the fateful penalty shoot-out, and Jordan Pickford’s remarkable save from Jorginho – a stop that kept England’s hopes alive.
“The fans erupted,” Rice says. “Before he took it, I thought ‘he is so good at penalties, Jorginho, it’s done’. But when ‘Picks’ saved, I was like: ‘Hold on a minute, their best penalty-taker has just missed. We are now going to kick on and win it’.”
Fate had other ideas, with Bukayo Saka’s subsequent miss sealing England’s defeat, but the thrill of that glorious summer when anything seemed possible has still not dissipated for Rice.
“I remember the fans singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ before the game. Standing in the tunnel, I was buzzing, just wanting to go out there. I had no fear. It was a one-off game. Now, seeing that all back, you want to re-live those moments – but obviously with the trophy at the end of it.”
It is the last-16 victory over Germany that is his most cherished game. “We had only scored two goals in the group and there was a lot of talk about how we weren’t playing well enough, or scoring enough goals. It was a knock-out game, and just imagine losing to Germany having only scored two goals at Wembley? There was a lot of pressure.”