Declan Rice has starred for England at Euro 2020 and stood out again in Tuesday night’s last 16 defeat of Germany – but Chelsea have a cheaper alternative to the defensive midfielder already on their radar who might enable them to fulfil their ambitions elsewhere in the summer transfer window.
Rice has been long linked with a move to Stamford Bridge and while links temporarily died down after the departure of former manager Frank Lampard, they have now resurfaced.
That is because current Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is said to be just as much of a fan of the West Ham talisman as Lampard as he seeks to strengthen his side’s spine.
Eurosport transfer expert Dean Jones said of Rice this week on Si & Dan Talk Chelsea: “I’ve been told he’s willing to leave West Ham for a bigger club but it’s going to be a pricey deal. So it’ll really depend on whether Chelsea can find better value elsewhere I think.”
More recent news that Rice has rejected two contract offers from West Ham and is eager to play in the Champions League next season has only stirred speculation that Chelsea could make a move this summer.
Yet the Hammers will hold out for £100million for the 22-year-old, who Manchester United and Manchester City also admire. That is surely a prohibitive fee given Chelsea have other priorities, namely a new centre-forwards.
But reports in recent months indicate the European champions already have a player within their sights who can be as effective as Rice and at a much cheaper price: Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni.
A dynamic and all-energy defensive-minded midfielder, Tchouameni last month received the backing of none other than Cesc Fabregas, someone who knows what it takes to dominate a match from the centre of the park, to reach the very top of the game.
“He has the potential to be the complete midfielder. Modern midfield player,” was Fabregas’ succinct verdict on Twitter, though he made it clear that Monaco won’t want to lose his team-mate any time soon, adding: “But we need him still… sorry.”
Named Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year and included in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year, Tchouameni made himself a vital contributor under Niko Kovac last term in what was just his debut campaign at Stade Louis II. He racked up 42 appearances in which he produced two goals and four assists.
“He’s a symbol of our team,” Croatian coach Kovac said of the player, adding: “If he continues like this, he’ll have a great career.”
The 21-year-old was also excellent at the recent under-21 European Championship, though France were knocked out by the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
And the French-Cameroonian has been identified as an alternative to Rice alongside Benfica’s Julian Weigl, who Tuchel previously managed at Borussia Dortmund.
Tchouameni seems the ideal fit. He is young and technically, physically and tactically ready for Premier League football. Plus, he’d be affordable at around £34m. That would make him roughly £66m cheaper than Rice.
Chelsea have of course bought from Monaco without success before with Tiemoue Bakayoko having been an unmitigated disaster, making just 43 appearances since joining in 2017 and spending the past three seasons out on loan at AC Milan and Napoli.
But Bordeaux academy product Tchouameni – signed for £18m a year ago – boasts enormous ability both on and off the ball and has all the attributes to be a leading player in the Chelsea midfield for the foreseeable future.
If it is not Chelsea who sign him, it is easy to see a club such as Paris Saint-Germain or one of Chelsea’s big six rivals landing him and profiting from his abilities for years to come.
Even better, given his price tag, opting to sign Tchouameni over Rice would surely aid Chelsea’s chances of putting together a financial package to entice Dortmund into selling Erling Haaland – their top centre-forward target.
Landing a 30-goal-a-season striker is the top priority for Chelsea this summer with Haaland earmarked as their most fancied option above the likes of Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku.
Signing the Norwegian has however been made even harder by Jadon Sancho’s move to Manchester United, which will double Dortmund’s resolve to hold on to the striker.
But they would be tempted to cash in if Chelsea managed to put £150m on the table. And if they were to sign Rice, their chances of also affording Haaland in addition would surely be close to nil unless they oversaw a raft of big-money sales. That’s unlikely.
Tchouameni, though, might be a player who can both solve Chelsea’s midfield needs while also allowing the Londoners to put aside enough cash to launch a blockbuster move for Haaland.
The Blues would really fancy their chances of overthrowing Premier League champions Manchester City at the summit of England’s top flight if they could pull off moves.