DECLAN RICE was watching post-game coverage of Chelsea’s Champions League victory when his phone came to life.
It was Mason Mount.
From the noisy Porto locker room after the 1-0 win over Manchester City, Mount couldn’t help but make contact with his childhood pal to show off a winner’s medal.
And now the cronies, who first met at eight with Chelsea, hope to combine at the heart of the English midfielder at Euro 2020 – starting with Sunday’s opener against Croatia. .
When asked when he first saw Mount’s Champions League medal, Rice smiled and said: “Facetime right after. Not on the pitch, in the locker room. He was buzzing.
“We have to be a little careful because people will say that we are in love. Every time we do Facetime, all of his teammates step in and say, “You two have to stop talking to each other!”
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“Actually, it’s next to the hotel here. I can’t even go down to dinner without him sending me a message: “When are you going down?” We are quite close. I tried to prick his medal. But, honestly, I was so over the moon for him and his family. We are so close and see him win …
“Last year it was the subject of so much criticism – I don’t know why. There are so many greats who have never won the Champions League, but he did, so I’m excited for him.
“Even in training as a kid, my dad always described him as a bumblebee in a jar, fighting all over the place, wanting to go out.
“That’s exactly what he is on the pitch. He’s so excited to get the ball back, but obviously now what he’s adding to his game are goals, assists and key passes.
Mount is becoming a good player, but so is Rice. And in many ways, he’s even more important to boss Gareth Southgate.
England have a lot of decent attacking players, but good defensive midfielders are rare.
There will be major responsibility on the shoulders of the West Ham man, 22, over the next few weeks.
Rice said: “During this tournament we will be able to face world class players and I want to test myself against them.
“There is a lot more to my game now than just a midfielder.
“It’s funny because my coach Alan Irvine, who just left West Ham, fired me over two weeks before the end of the season and told me I have so many other levels that I could reach – I just need to start showing it more.
“And he worked with some of the best players.
“I’m a starting midfielder and my job is to protect the defense, but I think I can definitely add a lot more to my game in the future.”
Rice feared missing Euro 2020 after injuring his knee in England’s 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over Poland in March – but he returned to play the last three games of the season for West Ham.
He said: “It was crazy how it turned out. I did it in the game against Poland, in the 60th minute, and I played the rest of the game, but my knee was unstable.
“I thought, ‘This is not good. After the game I told the doc about it and it didn’t sound like anything, it was weird. When I got home I texted the doctor at West Ham – I’m a little worried.
“He sent me for a scan and he came back when I was on my way home. I got the call from the physiotherapist saying that I had ruptured my LCL (lateral collateral ligament) and I immediately asked how long it would last. Was I going to miss the Euro?
“They said it could take 10 to 12 weeks and they didn’t know if surgery was needed.
“The first person I called was my dad, then Mark Noble, to say, ‘I think I’m done.’ He always gives me good advice and calms me down.
“Once we saw the knee specialist he made me believe I could be back and as soon as I started my rehabilitation it was six weeks without a day off. I was back in four weeks.
“I played three games in seven days after a six week absence at the end of the season so it was tough – but now my knee feels really good and strong. I did everything right, which gives me the best chance to perform.
Rice was the captain of the Hammers when Noble was not on the squad.
It is a certainty that he will captain England at some point.
Ready to make his 18th appearance for the country at Wembley, he added: “I feel like I came out of my shell playing for England.
“In the first two games it took a while for me to prepare and play for England.
“But I feel like I have more confidence in myself, like with the armband at West Ham, I took it to England here and I’m not scared.”
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