West Ham have been warned that selling Declan Rice to Chelsea would be a “big gamble”, with Joe Cole calling on under-fire owners David Sullivan and David Gold to resist any advances.
The current transfer window has seen plenty of speculation regarding a crossing of London for the versatile England international.
Rice spent time within Chelsea’s academy system as a youngster and, despite being released by the club before getting a big break, is seeing a retracing of those steps being mooted.
Frank Lampard has invested heavily over recent weeks, with those at Stamford Bridge reinforcing their ranks from back to front.
It has been suggested that another holding midfielder may be the final piece of the puzzle for the big-spending Blues.
Rice has been identified as a possible target but, with the 21-year-old captaining West Ham in the absence of Mark Noble, Cole believes the Hammers need to be doing all they can to retain the services of a prized asset, even if talk of £40 million ($52m) bids being in the offing proves to be correct.
A man who represented West Ham and Chelsea in his playing days told BT Sport after seeing Rice shine in a 4-0 win over Wolves on Sunday: “It would be a big gamble to let him go because he is the most important player in that dressing room.
“We talk about what he is worth as an asset to the club financially but how much is it worth to stay in the Premier League?
“When you have got the back three and him and [Tomas] Soucek, and Noble to come in, all of a sudden you have got a nice solid base to build on there.
“We have talked about the disconnect between the ownership group and the fans and I think it will be a step too far if they let him go.
“I don’t know what’s in the lad’s heart or head, what does he want to do, but he is a fantastic player, a fantastic lad and a big asset to this club. He is so important to this West Ham team.”
Rice has vowed to continue playing for the badge at West Ham, with no pushes for the exits being made on his part, while Hammers coach Alan Irvine feels a hot prospect is settled in his current surroundings.
He told the club’s official website after covering for David Moyes, who has tested positive for coronavirus, in a convincing win over Wolves: “Declan is extremely happy.
“He was captain today, he is not somebody with other things on his mind.
“All the players and staff have been fantastic. Declan is extremely happy here and is an important player for us.”