Rice, who came through Chelsea’s academy before being released and going on to make his name at West Ham, has been a standout performer for Arsenal this season and is spearheading their title challenge under Mikel Arteta.
The England midfielder was wanted by all the big clubs in Europe in the summer but decided to pick the Emirates Stadium as his new home, joining for a club-record £105m. He had been heavily linked with Chelsea for a number of years, with Frank Lampard said to be the catalyst behind their interest, having fought with his superiors to make a deal happen during his first spell in charge as manager.
Jody Morris, who worked as Lampard’s assistant at Chelsea between 2019 and 2021, has now revealed just how close they came to signing Rice for nearly half of the price that Arsenal paid. Speaking on the No Tippy Tappy Podcast, Morris said: “I messaged him when we were there and said, would you come back? Because obviously, he was released from Chelsea as a 14-year-old. If you actually spoke to Dec, I don’t think that he would have thought that he should have been released. But there was quite a few of them that thought maybe he shouldn’t have been released.
“It’s probably the best thing for him. He’s gone on to amazing things at West Ham. But while he was there, going into the second season I was on at Lamps all the time going, Dec would be unbelievable for us. We need more legs because [N’Golo] Kante hadn’t played for us a lot. He’d only played about 40 percent of the time, he kept getting injured. And I said, would you like Dec? And Lamps said I don’t know, I haven’t really seen enough of him.
“About a month later, he was like I’ve been all over Dec since we’ve been having a closer look. I messaged Dec saying would you come back, otherwise there’s no point Lamps going to have the conversations with anybody if Dec is still [not looking to leave]. And he went, no, no, I’m a Chelsea fan, of course I would. So that got put in motion and Lamps started speaking to him. And it was on.
“The upstairs at the club were speaking to his dad and talking about a few things. It was pushed behind a couple of other signings and didn’t get through. I think at the time they were quoting around £60, £65 million, so that would’ve been an absolute snip.”
Rice made 245 appearances for the Hammers and captained the side to the UEFA Conference League glory last season before eventually leaving for Arsenal back in the summer. He has immediately established himself in the Arsenal team, starting every Premier League match for them so far this season.
The 25-year-old played the full 90 last weekend as the Gunners laid down a statement by defeating title rivals Liverpool 3-1 to move within two points of Jurgen Klopp‘s men at the top of the table.
Speaking after the match, Rice said: “We knew in the second half it was going to be a tough game but, in the end, we gave it everything and we got the three points which was massive for us. These are the moments we live for in football and I’m just so happy we could win the match, it was massive from start to the end and to get three points, with that energy from the crowd, was just unbelievable.”