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Declan Rice transfer rumor update: Manchester City to spoil Arsenal fun?

I’m not worried. You shouldn’t be either.

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West Ham United v Leeds United - Premier League Photo by Rob Newell - CameraSport via Getty Images

Today’s update in the Declan Rice transfer saga is a potentially troubling one for Arsenal: Manchester City are reportedly preparing a formal offer. The sky is falling! Mikel Arteta and Edu dithered about with desultory bids when they should simply have offered everything West Ham were asking. It’s never going to happen now. There is no way the Gunners can compete with City.

I’m tired, y’all.

We’ve had weeks of reporting from top-tier football journalists that talks were progressing well, that Arsenal were confident a deal would get done, and that Rice wanted to move to North London. And now, all of a sudden, because of one day’s worth of reporting that Manchester City “are preparing...a formal offer” (or “expected to make an opening offer” per David Ornstein) it’s over and done with for the Gunners? The mere suggestion that City are working on an offer, not even that they’ve submitted one or are even necessarily going to submit one, is curtains? Please.

Why have we decided that all of those other reports should suddenly take a backseat to this one? Recency is the only differentiating factor between the stories. Today’s reporting has nothing about Arsenal, Rice, or the talks between the Gunners and West Ham. As far as we know, the Gunners are still confident of getting the move done, the player still wants to come to the Emirates, and negotiations are ongoing (that part we know - Arsenal are expected to come back with a third offer).

Think back to last summer. Gabriel Jesus was the top target. Arsenal were linked with a move for what seemed like ages. At the 11th hour, reports that Chelsea might swoop in to snatch him up emerged. They amounted to nothing. The Gunners got their man. Regardless of who is running it — West Ham, Manchester City, the media — it’s a page one play from the transfer decoy playbook, and I’m not going to be fooled.

The ESPN post suggests that Manchester City’s trophy winning pedigree might tempt Rice to chance his mind. Sure, it might. But it’s equally as likely that Rice doesn’t want to be another cog in the City machine. Were he to join Arsenal (and his good friend Bukayo Saka), he’d have the chance to be the guy, the final piece of the puzzle that puts the club over the top. He could lead the Gunners back to the Promised Land. He’d almost instantly become a club legend at Arsenal.

Compare that to being, at the absolute best, the third-most recognizable player behind Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne at Manchester City. It would still be their club. Rice would be helping them win trophies. I can’t speak for his mind, but I know which option I’d rather pick. And on top of that, Arsenal have been laying the groundwork for this deal for a really long time. Personal terms have reportedly been agreed for weeks. Who knows how long Bukayo Saka has been in Rice’s ear about moving to the Emirates. Are we to believe that all of that is going to be undone at the drop of a hat?

Let’s look at things from West Ham’s perspective. They’ve been desperate from the start for a bidding war, which is completely understandable. They’re going to lose the best player they’ve ever had (and may ever have). Of course there going to try to push their record incoming fee as high as they possibly can. They tried to add Bayern Munich to the conversation. That fizzled rather quickly.

Adding Manchester City to the mix greatly benefits the Hammers. City probably are interested, mind you — I’m not going to brush the reports aside completely. But West Ham have all the motivation in the world to play up and exaggerate City’s involvement in the process, to raise the spectre of Arsenal missing out on their top target. Look at the reaction to the news online. It’s pandemonium. West Ham have desperately been trying to light a fire under Mikel Arteta and Edu to extract as much value as they possibly can.

And let’s take a look from Manchester City’s perspective. Yes, they would absolutely outmuscle Arsenal in a bidding war. They’d probably be happy to prevent their likeliest rival from significant improvement. But how willing are they to push the Premier League, generally? They’re facing more than 100 charges of financial impropriety, so they might be hesitant to continue kicking the hornet’s nest. They’ve had significant leeway to buy their way to the top, but at some point, the largesse of the folks running the sport and the other PL owners is going to dry up. Bite the hand that feeds you enough times...

I also don’t really buy that Manchester City were waiting for Ilkay Gundogan to make his decision before moving. Nor do I buy that Pep Guardiola and City genuinely didn’t know what Gundogan was going to decide. They knew. Why were they lining up a move for Mateo Kovacic, which appears just about signed, sealed, and delivered? The timing of a report about Manchester City’s interest in Rice the day after Gundogan’s move to Barcelona is a bit too convenient for me.

The bit about Kalvin Phillips being used as a makeweight in the deal doesn’t move the needle, either. For starters, Phillips wants to stay at Manchester City and fight for his place. That has been the consistent reporting all spring. Nor is he chopped liver. Kalvin Phillips is a really good footballer. There is a reason Manchester City spent nearly £45M to buy him last summer. I don’t think he’ll be cast aside that easily.

City have been methodical in their squad building. It’s part of what has made their unlimited pot of money so effective as compared to some of the other clubs backed by sovereign wealth. Backing the Brinks truck up to West Ham for a position in which they’ve already got Rodri and Phillips doesn’t dovetail with their past transfer patterns. It’s not like Declan Rice’s availability should come as a surprise to any club. Armed with that (presumed) knowledge, City bought Phillips last summer. It doesn’t add up if you assume Manchester City are conducting intelligent transfer business.

Finally, if all that wasn’t enough, I’ll give you one more reason this doesn’t pass the smell test. Declan Rice is on vacation. The reports were that nothing was going to happen until he returned towards the end of the month. But no new developments doesn’t work for the content machine. The beast needs feeding. I think this is grist for the mill as much as anything else.

Let’s take a deep breath, y’all. I’m no less confident today that Arsenal are going to get the transfer done than I was yesterday. If anything, the reports might speed up the highly anticipated reveal of Declan Rice in Arsenal red.