Chelsea and Manchester City have reportedly opted against pursuing West Ham United star and Manchester United transfer target Declan Rice.

According to ESPN, Manchester United have been handed a free run to sign West Ham United talisman Declan Rice with rivals Chelsea and Manchester City unlikely to chase the Englishman in the summer transfer window.

Rice has emerged as one of the best young midfielders in Europe since breaking into the Irons’ first team in 2017. The topic of his future is set to dominate the tabloids during the upcoming summer transfer window, with some of the biggest clubs in the Premier League courting him in recent months.

The 23-year-old has been in fine form this season and his stellar productivity at both ends of the pitch has been one of the major driving forces behind West Ham’s incredible Europa League run. He has excelled in a progressive central midfield role and is enjoying his most productive season, notching up five goals and four assists in 46 appearances across all competitions this term.

The England international has just two years left on his current contract at the London Stadium. Recent reports have suggested that Rice has turned down a fresh contract offer from the Hammers, with the player feeling the summer window might be the right time for him to move on and further his career.

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If West Ham fail to clinch Champions League football for next season through the Europa League, retaining their star man might become even trickier. As such, a three-way battle for his services is expected to spark this summer between Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea. However, according to ESPN, the latter two have reportedly pulled out of the race, leaving Manchester United with a clear run.

Manchester City have been one of the most successful teams in the Premier League over the past decade or so in terms of the number of trophies they have won and would have matched Rice’s ambitions. He may also have been an ideal successor for long-serving lynchpin Fernandinho, who is ready to finish his trophy-laden City career at the end of the season.

But the report states that they have turned all their attention towards signing a world-class striker, with Erling Haaland closing in on a move to the Etihad Stadium. Moreover, with Rice likely to command a fee in excess of the British record set by Jack Grealish’s £100 million transfer to Manchester City from Aston Villa last summer, the Cityzens are wary of getting drawn into a saga.

Chelsea have also held a long term interest in Rice and have been keeping track of his development for a long time now, but their ownership situation hampers their ability to meet the Hammers’ asking price. Furthermore, manager Thomas Tuchel may prioritise defensive signings first, with Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen set to depart for free this summer.

So, Manchester United may have a free run at Rice come summer. But with them looking set to miss out on a place in the top four, whether the Red Devils club can persuade the West Ham midfielder to buy into Erik ten Hag’s new project at the start of next season remains to be seen.

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