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Declan Rice Chooses to Represent England over Ireland at International Level

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 13, 2019

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 29: Declan Rice of West Ham United during the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United at Molineux on January 29, 2019 in Wolverhampton, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)
James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Declan Rice has announced his intention to play for England at international level despite playing for the Republic of Ireland from under-16 level upwards since 2015.

The West Ham United midfielder, who was even capped in the Ireland senior side in three friendlies last year, said in a statement on Wednesday that his pride at wearing the Irish shirt "was always 100 per cent genuine," but his decision to switch international allegiance was a personal one. 

Rice, who has Irish grandparents but was born and raised in London, revealed how he had conversations with both Ireland boss Mick McCarthy and England manager Gareth Southgate.

Rice told Southgate he wants the chance to represent England.
Rice told Southgate he wants the chance to represent England.PAUL FAITH/Getty Images

He told both men how he has sent a written request to FIFA asking world football's governing body to let him register for England.

The 20-year-old said the choice was an "extremely difficult" one, but he ultimately defended his right to make it:

"Like so many people around the world, I consider myself to be of mixed nationality. I am a proud Englishman, having been born and raised in London. However, I am just as proud of my family's Irish heritage and my affinity and connection with the country."

Rice also said he hopes "people can understand that I have made this decision with honesty, integrity and the full support of my family."

He offered thanks to both McCarthy, predecessor Martin O'Neill and the football association of Ireland. Rice called playing for Ireland "something I will always cherish."

However, former Everton and Republic of Ireland midfielder Kevin Kilbane has questioned Rice's decision:

Kevin Kilbane @kdkilbane77

If you’re a “proud Englishman” then why play for us in the first place?

While the statement is respectful, not everybody believes players should be free to transfer their allegiance:

Kevin Palmer @RealKevinPalmer

No surprise Declan Rice has decided to declare for England. Rumour has it he decided last month. Rules should change to stop situations like this in the future. Once you earn a cap for your country, that should be it. Shouldn’t be allowed to switch at a later date https://t.co/pAtcV3Xkmw

It's a tricky issue, particularly for those eligible under the existing rules. Former Ireland manager Jack Charlton used those rules to his advantage when he guided the Boys in Green to the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the USA, with a team featuring Liverpool-born John Aldridge and Glasgow native Ray Houghton.

Rice's decision to try to break into an England squad loaded in midfield areas is a brave one. Southgate already has plenty of proven players in the middle, particularly in deep-lying roles.

Tottenham Hotspur's Eric Dier and Liverpool's Jordan Henderson can cover the base of midfield. Things are even more crowded further forward, where Dele Alli, Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jesse Lingard can all feature.

Rice had a better chance of becoming a fulcrum McCarthy could build around, particularly based on his development at club level this season. 

Hammers chief Manuel Pellegrini has successfully converted the player from a centre-back into a defensive midfielder:

Squawka Football @Squawka

Most recoveries made in the Premier League this season by outfield players: • Wilfried Ndidi (209) • Rúben Neves (202) • Declan Rice (197) Impressive numbers for the 20-year-old. ⚒ https://t.co/7GEFmDCE4t

Rice's athleticism and technique would have been major assets for Ireland. However, his decision to play for England instead could become a cautionary tale to the FAI about the risks associated with identifying youngsters with Irish heritage for potential lengthy international careers.

It may serve as a push toward focusing more on developing homegrown talent, even at the expense of missing out on an exciting prospect or two.

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