Yesterday after months of speculation Declan Rice confirmed he is committing his international future to England. Rice had previously won three caps for the Republic of Ireland but crucially none in competitive internationals meaning he wasn’t locked into representing Ireland.
Rice born in London to two English parents but with Irish family roots qualified for both nations and will submit a formal request to FIFA to change his international registration to England. The young midfielder has developed into the standout player at West Ham prompting new Ireland manager Mick McCarthy to claim he wanted to build his team around Rice. McCarthy took Rice’s decision gracefully, wishing the player good luck with England and insisted he would not protest to FIFA insisting it would be ‘hypocritical’ to do so.
McCarthy is quite correct on this, as Ireland boss he has been looking to persuade numerous players with dual nationality to commit to Ireland. As a player, Barnsley born McCarthy was eligible to play for Ireland through his father and made his debut in 1984, going on to skipper his nation at Italia ’90. McCarthy was hardly alone during Jack Charlton’s tenure as Ireland manager with the likes of Ray Houghton, Tony Cascarino, John Aldridge, Andy Townsend amongst those who played for Ireland despite being born elsewhere.
Midfield dilemma resolved?
Rice hasn’t asked Gareth Southgate for guarantees about his place in the England squad, but on the back of his excellent club form is expected to be in Southgate’s squad when England reconvene in March. Rice will compete for the holding midfield role in Southgate’s revised 4-3-3 formation where England’s existing options all come up with issues. Fabian Delph played that role to perfection in November but is currently struggling to get a regular start at Manchester City, meanwhile Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is struggling to recapture his 2018 form and has found himself on the bench. Eric Dier will likely start in this position against the Czech Republic next month but he too is only just back from injury whilst Nathaniel Chalobah is struggling for games after returning from a serious knee injury.
Rice offers positional sense, athleticism and excellent distribution to make him a nice fit for England and with Henderson and Delph both approaching 30, Rice looks like their long-term successor. West Ham have extended his contract to 2023 but with Rice a serious contender for Young Player of the Year they will have to work to keep him with Liverpool and Tottenham reportedly interested.
Dual Nationality Decisions
It’s difficult for those of us with only one national affiliation to place ourselves in the position of those with two, especially on a subject as emotive as international football. Jack Grealish made a similar decision to represent England over Ireland although he still remains uncapped at senior level. England also lost out in recent years to Scotland over Scott McTominay, to Wales over David Brooks (who was part of the England’s Under 20 World Cup win) and Nigeria over Alex Iwobi. But the most significant switch saw Wilfried Zaha who played international friendlies in England colours, later switch to the nation of his birth; Ivory Coast.
Further back John Barnes, Tony Dorigo and Owen Hargreaves all represented England at the World Cup despite being born elsewhere. Away from England German World Cup winners Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose clocked up 250 caps for their adopted nation despite being born in Poland, Deco represented Portugal but was born in Brazil as was Eduardo who played for Croatia and Spain benefited from switches in nationality from Marcos Senna and Diego Costa.
Rice’s statement had a ring a truth and sincerity to it and whilst it’s easy to sympathise with unhappy Irish fans, the fact remains Rice hasn’t broken any rule and he was in Ireland’s system because they capped him very young in order to bring him into the fold. Ultimately international football is a matter of the ‘best ours against the best of yours’ but as history as taught us there will always be fringe cases and complications around mixed nationality players, Rice is the latest case, but he won’t be the last.