Declan Rice named England captain for landmark Belgium friendly as Gareth Southgate hails Arsenal star

Declan Rice says he was left “speechless” after being asked to captain England for the first time on the occasion of his 50th cap against Belgium on Tuesday night.

Regular captain Harry Kane has returned to Bayern Munich for treatment on an ankle injury, while Kyle Walker, who led the side in Saturday’s friendly defeat to Brazil, limped off after 20 minutes and has now gone back to Manchester City.

With a number of other senior players, including the likes of Jordan Henderson, Kieran Trippier and Harry Maguire, also sidelined, Southgate has instead handed Rice the armband in the latest sign of his growing importance to the Three Lions.

"I’m speechless, to be honest, absolutely lost for words,” the Arsenal midfielder said. “When [Southgate] said to me last night I was going to be captain, I gave him a hug, shook his hand and said: ‘thank you very much’.

“I owe him a lot. Since I first came into the team, he’s always made me feel at home. I’ve felt so comfortable playing under him and I’ve really grown in confidence. On my 50th cap, to walk out at Wembley in front of my family and friends, it’s an absolute honour.”

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Tuesday’s game will be the last before Southgate names his squad for this summer’s European Championship, with a number of fringe players bidding to impress.

There is no doubt, however, over Rice’s place in the side, with the 25-year-old having blossomed as one of Southgate’s most reliable performers over the five years since his international debut.

“He has great leadership experience already at a tender age,” Southgate said of the man who captained West Ham to Europa Conference League glory last season.

"It’s a brilliant opportunity for some of our young players to show leadership. Some of our core group - Kane, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, Harry Maguire - are not with us. So, there’s a different feel about the group, a different dynamic.

“That’s a great opportunity for other people to step up, to lead, to grow and that’s important because a lot of the players involved are the future of the team as well for the mid and long-term. The more of those experiences they can have, that’s really helpful for everybody.”