Declan Rice is eyeing Nations League Finals glory with England despite fearing he was not good enough for the Premier League at the start of this season.
West Ham midfielder Rice was named in Gareth Southgate's final 23-man squad for the conclusion of the inaugural UEFA international tournament, with the Three Lions' semifinal taking place against the Netherlands in Guimaraes next Thursday.
The 20-year-old has enjoyed a dizzying rise during a 2018-19 campaign when he switched international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland, with Manchester United one of a number of clubs frequently listed as being among his admirers.
It amounts to a situation far removed from West Ham's 4-0 humiliation at Liverpool in their opening game of the season, when Rice was hauled off at half-time and considered asking manager Manuel Pellegrini for a loan move away from the club.
"After the game, when I got dragged [off], I thought that I wasn't cut out for the Premier League," Rice told a news conference.
"After the first game the transfer window is still open and I was honestly thinking about going to speak to the manager to maybe go on loan somewhere.
"That was tough that day against Liverpool. We got beat 4-0 and mentally it's tough. The manager told me I would get another chance and I needed to keep working."
Pellegrini was true to his word and Rice feels he "hasn't looked back" since returning to the fray for a 3-1 victory at Everton in September.
Now, far from doubting himself, he has designs on the upper echelons of the game.
"When you start out in football, you always want to play at the top, you want to play in the Champions League," he said.
"If you were in football and didn't want to do that there'd be no point playing."
Nevertheless, West Ham supporters should not interpret this as an indication that Rice's head has been turned. On the contrary, he is loving life at the London Stadium.
"Everything's good. I know there's speculation but during the season last year I signed a new five-year contract with West Ham, so all my focus is fully on playing for West Ham," he added.
"I've got a great connection with the fans – they love me, I love them and that's the way that it is at the moment. I'm not thinking about anything else."
On Tuesday, Rice and other England youngsters had cause to be grateful that Southgate sees them as an important part of his full international squad.
At St George's Park, despite waiting on the arrival of their Europa League and Champions League final stars, England's senior side claimed an emphatic 5-0 victory in a training game against Aidy Boothroyd's Under-21 team.
Jesse Lingard hit a brace as his United team-mate Marcus Rashford also got in on the act, while Southampton duo James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond were on target after half-time, despite being cut from Southgate's trimmed squad for the trip to Portugal.
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