LONDON (AP) — West Ham announced the departure of Declan Rice on Saturday for what the club said would be a British-record transfer fee. Arsenal was the England midfielder’s likely destination.
West Ham didn’t reveal the team Rice would be joining or the fee in a statement that was accompanied by a message from the player to West Ham’s fans, saying it was a “tough” decision driven by his “ambition to play at the very highest level of the game.”
“Playing on the opposite team to West Ham for the first time will be an unusual experience,” the 24-year-old Rice said. “I’m not sure yet exactly how I will feel, but I also know you will all understand and respect that my professional loyalties have to now lie with my new club.”
Arsenal are reportedly paying an initial fee of 100 million pounds ($131 million) for Rice, who spent nine years with West Ham. There are also likely to be add-ons to the fee.
The reported initial fee is the same as the British-record sum that Manchester City paid Aston Villa for Jack Grealish in 2021.
Another England midfielder, Jude Bellingham, joined Real Madrid from Borussia Dortmund this offseason in a deal that could reach more than $139 million.
It would be a statement signing by Arsenal after a season which saw the club narrowly miss out on the Premier League title but re-establish themselves as a force in England under Mikel Arteta.
Rice will effectively replace Granit Xhaka in Arsenal’s midfield options, with the Switzerland international having joined Bayer Leverkusen last week.
Rice can play as a midfield anchorman or as a box-to-box player, giving Arteta some versatility as Arsenal look to build on their second-place finish in the league last season. Only a late-season collapse prevented Arsenal winning their first league title since 2004.
Arsenal will also be playing in the Champions League in the coming season for the first time since 2017.
It is a sign of the progress made by Arsenal under Arteta that the club can attract a sought-after player like Rice, and for such a big fee.
The London club has also signed Germany forward Kai Havertz from Chelsea in a deal worth a reported 65 million pounds and Netherlands defender Jurrien Timber from Ajax on Friday for an initial fee of 40 million euros.
Rice’s last game for West Ham was their win over Fiorentina in the Europa Conference League final in June, after which it became clear the defensive midfielder would be leaving the team whose academy he joined in 2014 from Chelsea.
“This club and its supporters will always be in my heart, and forever a part of who I am,” Rice said.