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Pablo Zabaleta has declared his love for West Ham's 18-year-old Irishman

Declan Rice made his first Premier League start for the Hammers in Saturday’s defeat to Southampton.

Southampton v West Ham United - Premier League - St Marys West Ham's Declan Rice (right) under pressure from Southampton's Manolo Gabbiadini on Saturday. Source: Adam Davy

IRISH UNDERAGE INTERNATIONAL Declan Rice has received glowing praise from one of his most experienced team-mates at club level.

Rice, who made his first-team debut for West Ham United as a substitute against Burnley on the final day of last season, was handed his first start for the club over the weekend.

After coming off the bench against Manchester United at Old Trafford six days earlier, the 18-year-old was named in midfield for the Hammers alongside Mark Noble for Saturday’s 3-2 Premier League defeat away to Southampton.

Rice has clearly been making an impact in East London, with Pablo Zabaleta particularly impressed by what he has seen from the youngster.

Ahead of Saturday’s game against Southampton, the Argentine international defender spoke about Rice in an interview for West Ham’s official website.

Declan Rice Rice trained with the Ireland senior squad back in May. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

He said: “To be honest, I love him. He’s young but he has got that personality that you need to play with the first team. He came on against Manchester United and he was always asking for the ball, switching the ball from one side to the other, he looks really confident and that’s good.

“I love young players coming through from the academy and showing that they want to do well, so hopefully we can help him as much as we can, and I’m sure he will be a very important player for West Ham over the years to come.”

London-born Rice, whose grandparents hail from Cork, was called up by Martin O’Neill to train with the Ireland senior squad at Fota Island back in May.

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