Manchester United are likely to have a clear run to signing West Ham midfielder Declan Rice this summer, sources have told ESPN, but it will be a test of the pulling power of the Premier League's most successful team as to whether they can even come close to doing a deal for the England international.
They are still Manchester United, one of the world's great clubs, but they have become a byword for failure and mismanagement in recent years and look set to miss out on the Champions League next season as they slipped eight points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, who have one game in hand, this weekend. United's reputation has taken such a battering that they could find the next transfer market tricky to navigate, and Rice might just be the type of player who looks at United and thinks that his career will be better served by waiting for something more appealing to come along.
Although West Ham manager David Moyes said last month that the Hammers didn't want to let Rice depart, the former United and Everton boss then muddied the waters by recalling how an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney left Goodison Park for around £27 million to join United in 2004, saying: "I thought Wayne was irreplaceable, but what happens in football is you move on."
In one brief statement, Moyes let slip the reality of football -- not just modern football, but how it has always been -- that the best young players will, sooner or later, be tempted away from the clubs who gave them their big break by the prospect of boosting their income and career opportunities at a bigger, wealthier and more successful team.