Declan Rice is a talented young footballer and has every right to play for England if he wishes to do so. That’s just something that we have to accept, and the only reason we’ll debate it is because he’s that talented in the first place.
The West Ham player was left out of Martin O’Neill’s latest squad and the Ireland manager confirmed Rice is still deliberating over his international allegiance. What we have to remember is that international football isn’t what it once was and if Rice is a signifier of the shift from patriotism to career suitability when it comes to international declaration, then so be it.
Back in March, Rice represented the Republic of Ireland U21s in a crucial game against Azerbaijan at Tallaght Stadium. After Shaun Donnellan netted the equaliser, Rice kissed the Irish crest in celebration. Granted these gestures should be taken with a large pinch of salt, but a complete 180 on his international future if it were based solely on identity would seem rather unlikely, even at the age of 19.
So what exactly could be changing his mind? Well, first of all – England is just a bigger draw. There isn’t a single Republic of Ireland player that would get into the England XI, so naturally playing with those players would improve him as a footballer.
Ironically, it could be England’s rather fortuitous progression at the World Cup that is turning his head. Think back to your experiences watching the World Cup at the age of 19 or at a similar point in your life: it’s all anyone speaks about. The opportunity to play in that tournament could convince anyone of that age to negotiate their identity, especially a young boy who has grown up in a footballing environment in which morals aren’t the most prominent of factors.
Or would it be Gareth Southgate’s refreshing approach to management? There’s no point in assessing Martin O’Neill’s approach. Some may like it and it’s been dissected to death, but there’s certainly enough reason to suggest that a young lad with superb technical ability could be put up off by the current regime long-term, especially as O’Neill penned his new deal back in January.
It may well backfire on him, though. He’s now behind a host of midfielders in the Hammers’ pecking order including Jack Wilshere and Carlos Sanchez. That won’t exactly whet Southgate’s appetite when it comes to capping the youngster, but even so the FA have absolutely nothing to lose by offering him the world only to take it back once he appears in a competitive senior international for them.
And in truth, as soon as Rice publicly sides with England, he wouldn’t even need to be capped in order for his ties to be cut with the FAI. It’s easy to forget footballers’ humanity too because they’re turned into PR-machines with suggested tweets from employers from a young age. Just how much reality Rice deals in is anyone’s guess, but he could easily be manipulated by the grand lights of Wembley as well major tournament participation on a regular basis.
What we need to ensure is respect is granted, but that goes two ways. We as a general public need to respect his decision, even if we can speculate about his rationale. But Rice also owes both the FAI and the FA respect as they both have youth development blueprints and long-term ambitions at senior level which may or may not include him.
Declan Rice is considering an option to declare for England. Can't help but think we've been lead on a bit here… pic.twitter.com/jDEBrkDjpO
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) August 27, 2018
Rice is still growing up and anyone at the age of 19 is still dealing with their own sense of identity – and that’s without the avenues open to us that Declan can walk down.
If the reasons behind his deliberation are more material than that, he can be judged accordingly in time. But the final judgement you make should be an overall indictment of commodification of international football, rather than trying to reinstate the Treason Act of 1821.
There will be more Declan Rices, even if the original is massively important to the Boys in Green going forward. The current squad has limited technical ability and James McClean’s performances are fuelled by national pride. If Rice lacks that, then he may not be the difference-maker we all expect in a green jersey regardless – but he would lead the Republic of Ireland into a more technically-sound, ambitious era should he side with them.