West Ham's Declan Rice has claimed he had no intentions of leaving the club, despite admitting he was surprised at how long it took for them to offer him a new long-term contract.
Rice penned a five-and-a-half year deal at the end of December , putting to an end speculation linking him with both Manchester clubs.
The teenager made 31 first-team appearances last season, but for many, this has been Rice’s breakthrough year.
After a difficult start to the campaign, which saw him play just 45 minutes in the Hammers’ first four Premier League matches, Rice has grown in stature, and has not missed a single minute of league football since September’s 3-1 win against Everton.
“When I was taken off at half-time at Liverpool in the opening game, you question yourself,” Rice told the Evening Standard .
“You wonder if you are good enough to play at the top level, capable of being around the first team.
“I knew I had to get better to get back in, so I trained hard. I played against AFC Wimbledon in the Carabao Cup, did well and stayed in for the game at Everton which we won and was a turning point, both for me and the team.”
However, despite his impressive performances, a contract for the West Ham youth graduate did not appear, something Rice claimed never phased him.
“I’ve always been good at handling stuff mentally,” he said.
“I knew the new contract would happen. It was a long wait but I was aware that, if I started thinking about it too much, it would distract me. We were playing vital games and you just can’t let stuff like that distract you.
“I knew by playing in all the games and doing well that something had to give and the contract would come — and I was delighted to sign it.
"I saw other clubs mentioned but it would have been disrespectful of me to have considered leaving West Ham and my team-mates. My intentions were always to stay here and I feel this is the best place for me.”
While Rice’s club career appears settled, his international future is anything but.
The 19-year-old represented the Republic of Ireland at youth level and played three friendlies for the Boys in Green last summer.
Yet, Rice also qualifies for England and he failed to turn out for Ireland in the recent Nations League games, which otherwise would have meant he was ineligible to represent the Three Lions.
For now, however, Rice insists that any decision on his international leanings will be postponed for the near future.
“With regard to my international future, myself, my dad and my brother [Connor] have talked with Ireland coach Mick McCarthy and I’ve also spoken to Gareth Southgate,” he said.
“They’ve both said that whenever I’m ready, it’s up to me to make a decision. There was so much going on earlier in the season but now most of that has been sorted, so I will make a decision soon.
“As for now, I want to play at the top level throughout my career. I want to win trophies, even the Champions League. You have to be ambitious. If not, what’s the point?”