There was an air of inevitability about Declan Rice’s decision to change his allegiance from the Rep Of Ireland to England last week. Six months ago, Declan Rice informed Martin O’Neill that he would not be joining up with the Irish squad and needed time out to consider his options.
However, this saga dragged on. Possibly to make it look as though the West Ham midfielder had a difficult decision to make. It is likely his mind was made up months ago. To be fair, things at International level are not as black and white as they used to be. We do live in a different world where many players can choose between a number of countries they can declare for. No doubt Ireland have benefited from players switching allegiance themselves. But how many have changed horses in mid-stream?
The majority of the Irish soccer community feel betrayed by the decision the London-born player made. A number of former Irish internationals have been very vocal and angered by this situation. Both Kevin Kilbane and Gary Breen went on to play for Ireland with real pride, both those players were English born. But according to them, there was no decision to make. Simply put, they felt Irish.
In the case of Rice, he has come up through the youth ranks in Ireland, played for the U21s five times and has three senior caps. The 20-year-old has kissed the countries badge and indeed sang the national anthem. This is where the problems lie. If he wanted to play for England then why did he show this much ‘passion’ towards the Irish cause? If he had just played some youth football for the country and switched allegiance, not so much would be made of it all.
Without question Rice is a very good footballer, he can play centre-back but his performances in midfield have caught the eye this season for the Hammers. Something that has not gone un-noticed with England boss Gareth Southgate. Rice switched agent last season and it would be in the interest of his agent and West Ham to get him to declare for England. Right or wrong, the midfielder’s transfer value will be worth more with an English passport rather than an Irish one. Rice will be moving to a bigger club in a year or two, his agent will want to get as much money as he can get out of any deal, as will West Ham.
Rice‘s head was turned and no doubt promised greater riches by making this move. The word ‘move’ is crucial and is a sad state of affairs in International football. From an Ireland perspective, they have lost a player who they could build a team around. The situation is similar to a club losing a player on a free transfer. The decision of FIFA to change the rule a number of years ago was a poor move and we are seeing the effects now. If you played an international friendly you were qualified to play for that country and could not play for another. Today, that is changed and you must play competitively to be tied down to one country.
Ultimately, having worn the Irish jersey and jumped ship, it’s very disappointing. Wearing an international jersey should be the proudest moment you have on a football pitch and one of the proudest moments of your life. One of the most frustrating comments Rice made, was the fact that he said the decision was made based on him been a “Proud Englishman.” Did he use the Irish setup to audition himself for England? In usual circumstances this is fair, but if true, then why wear the Irish jersey in the first place?
Club football lost a bit of identity a long time ago, due to greed and money. FIFA are in danger of letting this seep into international football. This simply cannot happen. But are there enough people in the organization that really care? Probably not. For Ireland, they need to forget about Rice, draw a line underneath it, and get ready for the EURO qualifying. Plenty of players will take to the field with real pride for the jersey and will do their best for this small nation. This is what Irish people value over most, a players’ desire to almost die for the famous green shirt.