BY TOM OWEN
Last week it was revealed that Declan Rice may be about to make a U-turn and declare himself an Englishman, despite making three appearances already for the Republic of Ireland national team. Rice was subsequently left out of Martin O’Neill’s most recent Ireland squad. Whilst most England fans don’t seem particularly bothered, lots of Irish supporters have been left incensed by the 19 year old’s indecisiveness.
Obviously, a significant number of English born players regularly pull on the green jersey to play for Ireland and have done throughout recent history. Jack Charlton in particular made use of the “Granny Rule”, finding several Englishmen (and Scots and Welsh) with Irish backgrounds. “Real” Irish people have accepted these players with Preston’s Kevin Kilbane and Barnsley’s Mick McCarthy becoming legends. Irish fans only disapprove of the use of the “Granny Rule” when players show interest in playing for England after already being involved with the Irish national team. Before Rice, Jack Grealish had played for Ireland at youth level but declared for England before he made a first team appearance. Understandably, Irish fans were enraged that they lost such a good young talent to one of their closest rivals, so you can imagine how angry they are at Rice for even considering the switch.
I feel sympathy for Rice as I am second generation Irish and understand the confusion that comes with this. I consider myself half English and half Irish so have no idea who I would choose to represent at international level. Growing up as English and Irish, part of me wants to belt out “God Save The Queen” every time England play but the other part of me wants to wear an Ireland jersey and be proud of my heritage. It’s really not as simple making a quick choice and if I was ever a professional footballer, I would have to think long and hard before doing something I might later come to regret. He is still a teenager and therefore it’s natural for him to have second thoughts about what nationality he actually is under the circumstances. Lots of fans and pundits, Kevin Kilbane in particular, are dismayed by his decision but they shouldn’t be so hasty to blame Rice. Kilbane claims “he knew he was Irish” and that it was a no-brainer to represent Ireland, but you just can’t expect every young lad in his situation to be certain of their nationality as soon as they are born. There are different types of Irish immigrants who live in different communities and have a varying sense of “Irishness”. Its simply unrealistic to think that every young player with dual nationality can make their mind up that easily. Rice grew up in England to English parents so it’s completely understandable if he feels more English than Irish .
Despite my relative sympathy for Rice, he should have taken his time and come to a decision he was 100% comfortable with before playing any senior games. Kilbane said that he’d “taken 3 caps away from an Irishman” which is a brutal but honest assessment of the situation. If he was to go on to represent England, those 3 caps would have gone to waste when they should have gone to a ‘committed’ Irishman. People may say “they’re only friendlies” but every time your play for your country it should be an honour, not a test to see if you like it. Jack Grealish got heaps of abuse after switching to England even though he played for Ireland at youth level, but at least he made his mind up before he played for the senior side.
Even if Declan Rice does come back to Ireland, taking time out to “consider his options” won’t exactly make him popular with the Irish supporters. Plenty will hold a grudge against him for pulling out of the squad and the fact that they might lose him to England only adds insult to injury. Although there are a handful of English born players in the Irish squad, there are a lot of patriots like James McClean. The Stoke City player agreed with Kilbane on Twitter saying that “playing for your country should be a proud moment.” McClean is a senior member of the team, so it can’t fill Rice with confidence if he’s speaking against him. This makes me feel that Rice may never be fully accepted back into the Irish squad even if he opts to remain in green.
The West Ham youngster had a change of agent over the summer, so it’s not inconceivable that this was somehow responsible for Rice’s change of mind. Undoubtedly, playing for England ultimately means more money, a higher profile and potential for ‘success’ but these factors shouldn’t be counted when playing for your country. It should be about feeling pride and not about how many Instagram followers you can add off the back of international allegiance. England is the fashionable option and often the favourite, hence why Ireland has, in the past, been sneeringly dubbed “England’s B team” but Rice should follow his heart and not be persuaded by outside influences. If he does choose England because of the potential financial implications, he should be ashamed of himself. However, as yet – and unlikely there ever will be – there is simply no evidence to support that accusation.
I can appreciate Declan Rice’s dilemma, but I believe he has handled the situation poorly and despite Seamus Coleman’s claims that he’ll be welcomed back to the team, I feel that he’s now made it hard for himself to return. The fans and players won’t warm to someone who openly admitted to not being sure whether they’re Irish or not. It’s an incredibly hard choice to make but one that should have been made before he played three games for the Republic of Ireland. As a supporter of both countries, I’ll be happy with whatever decision he makes as long as it is for the right reasons.