Gareth Southgate Says Declan Rice Handled England Switch 'Incredibly Maturely'

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2019

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Declan Rice of England during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier match between England and Bulgaria at Wembley Stadium on September 7, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Gareth Southgate has heaped praise on Declan Rice for the way the West Ham United midfielder has handled switching to representing England at international level from the Republic of Ireland .

Rice, who made the decision to change his allegiance in February, played 90 minutes for the Three Lions during a 4-0 win over Bulgaria in a qualifier for UEFA Euro 2020 on Saturday.

Southgate singled out how Rice handled his choice ahead of England's next qualifier, Tuesday's game against Kosovo at Wembley Stadium, per Sky Sports:

"When I spoke with Declan about the possibility of him transferring association across, I was very conscious that this was something that could happen. That is why I wanted to tread very carefully, to make sure him and his family had all the time they needed to make a decision.

I never pushed, because I suspected that this would be part of the consequences of that. I think he has dealt with everything incredibly maturely."

Southgate's reference to "consequences" involves Rice recently revealing he and his family were subjected to threats and abuse on social media platforms. Rice told ITV News (h/t BBC Sport): "I've had people saying they're going to come to my house. You click on their profile and they'd just be a fake profile, so you don't know whether it's true or not."

The London-born Rice's decision to choose England over Ireland, the country of his grandparents, came after he had played for the latter at various youth levels from U16 upwards. The precocious talent had even earned three senior caps.

Since then, Rice's decision to represent England has been a huge boost for Southgate. It's given the Three Lions boss a natural anchor for the base of midfield.

Rice has refined his game considerably during recent seasons with the Hammers. He has made a successful transition from centre-back to holding midfielder on Manuel Pellegrini's watch.

The latter role was where Rice showcased his skills against Bulgaria:

Statman Dave @StatmanDave

Declan Rice’s game by numbers vs. Bulgaria: 98 passes (97% accuracy) 61 forward passes 3 interceptions 3/3 take-ons 3/4 tackles 0 fouls Had more forward passes, tackles won and interceptions than any other England midfielder. 🍚 https://t.co/T8g4azym4M

His experience as a defender has added an extra layer of security in Southgate's enterprising team. Rice regularly drops in between centre-backs Harry Maguire and Michael Keane out of possession, helping cover any gaps left by raiding full-backs Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose.

Rice's own comfort on the ball also means he can be an asset in England's possession game, an area showing significant improvement since Southgate took over in 2016.

Still just 20, Rice can become the linchpin of a group of burgeoning future match-winners for a country that hasn't won a major international trophy since the 1966 FIFA World Cup.

Rice already has a rapport with prolific Chelsea attacking midfielder Mason Mount, 20, who came off the bench against Bulgaria, from their days with the Blues' academy.

England @England

Good to see you both! 👋 @masonmount_10 🤝 @_DeclanRice https://t.co/QIOpYCaJzs

Southgate is right to be pleased with how Rice has coped with a difficult transition so early in his senior international career. Rice looks primed to become a central figure for England for years to come.