As an English West Ham fan living in the Republic of Ireland, there’s one thing that everyone wants to talk to me about recently. That, of course, is Declan Rice. I say talk to me, what people really want to do is tell me, in so many expletives, why the youngster is no longer welcome into the country he once represented.
Declan had appeared for the Republic of Ireland senior squad in three friendlies, impressing in all. There was a great buzz about having such a calm head on young shoulders and at a time when the international side was being received so positively by the fans.
Following Rice’s omission from the squad back in August, Martin O’Neill confirmed that the then 19-year-old was considering his international future after being approached by England. If you ask me, the former Republic of Ireland manager threw Rice under the bus in that press conference.
I don’t think it was in his best interests to announce that to a room full of headline-hungry media representatives. He knew that the public would immediately turn on Declan for even considering switching to England, of all teams. And if he didn’t know, he should have!
On his 20th birthday, the FAI put out a Tweet to wish Declan a very happy birthday. It looked like a desperate attempt to make Rice feel special. It was a failed attempt, as on February 13th it was confirmed that the London-born player had decided to represent England.
Personally, I tried to stay away from conversations about Rice’s decision. I walked away from people chatting with such venom about a player I feel deserves to do whatever he wishes given his personal and family situation. Then, while watching the home game against Fulham in my local, I listened to all sorts of comments: ‘Snake’, ‘he who we shall not name’, ‘English [insert any expletive]’.
All this aimed at a young man who made a career decision, one which he felt was best for him. If everyone takes a look back to career decisions they made at the age of 19, I guess their toughest choices would be considerably less significant. His move gives Rice the opportunity to play at a higher level of football, that’s just a fact.
All right, England aren’t winning anything but there seemed to be something good brewing in the 2018 World Cup. Granted, the Republic of Ireland made a decent attempt at qualifying but ultimately the Irish spent their summer on the beach instead of competing in Russia.
Declan Rice could have stayed where he was for an easier life; probably guaranteed a place in the starting line-up in friendlies and competitive qualifiers. The argument of the Irish fans is that he should have wanted to become the hero in green, not the ‘nobody’ in an England shirt.
So will he become a regular under Gareth Southgate and beyond? That all depends on where he will play. The England manager reportedly wants to take Rice on as a centre-back, but we’ve become accustomed to seeing him play as a defensive midfielder.
Age is on Declan’s side, but the competition is pretty strong in midfield with Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson attempting to make that role their own. Defensively, he’d have to compete with the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill. I fancy his chances!
During and after the World Cup, we heard so much about Southgate’s preference to ‘play out from the back’. Well with Rice’s experience in passing out from deep in midfield along with his previous experience as a calm defender, he could adapt really well to the requirements.
But look, we take nothing for granted – we always thought Mark Noble would get his chance and he didn’t. The signs are good for Rice though. He’s won Young Hammer of the Year for the last two seasons.
He also won Player of the Year for the Ireland U17s and U19s in consecutive years. To top it all off, he’s recently come home with Young Player of the Year in the London Football Awards.
This is a great time to be Declan Rice and the positive press is only going to work in his favour. That added to the fact that Gareth Southgate went to the effort of enquiring about his availability is all encouraging.
This month, Declan Rice finally spoke out about the scenario. He called it ‘the toughest decision I have had to make so far in my career’ before stating it’s ‘one that I am looking forward to in the future’. This young player isn’t taking anything for granted. He’s got his head screwed on.
Declan Rice has made a decision that suits him and his career and I wish him nothing but the best. Here’s to him lifting the Euro 2020 trophy in Wembley!