Sunday 25 September 2016

Richard Sadlier: Looking at it objectively, Jack Grealish's best option is England

Published 26/04/2015 | 10:45

Choosing country of his birth will give Jack Grealish more chances on the biggest stage
Choosing country of his birth will give Jack Grealish more chances on the biggest stage

Tim Cahill would have very few reasons to envy me today, but that wasn't always the case.

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We lived together briefly when he first arrived in London in 1997. I had just received the call-up to play for the Republic of Ireland under 18s, so it was time to start preparing for the trip home to Dublin. As I packed my luggage the night before I was due to travel, Cahill sat in my room bemoaning a decision he had made in his mid-teens which meant he could never play for Australia, his country of birth.

He had represented Western Samoa competitively at under 20 level when he was 14 years old. He would have had no way of knowing back then how well his talent would develop, but there was no wriggle room with FIFA at the time. If he wanted a taste of international football at any level again, Western Samoa was his only option. In reality, it meant he would never have a playing career of any note away from his club. He assumed his dreams of playing for Australia would never materialise.

Cahill's case was not an isolated one, so FIFA changed the rules in 2004. Eligibility at senior international level would no longer be governed by a decision a player makes during adolescence. As long as you don't play a competitive game at senior level for one country, if you are eligible to play for another, you are entitled to switch. The FAI have taken advantage of this rule by enticing players who had previously represented Northern Ireland and England at youth level to declare for the Republic.

It is this rule change which allows Jack Grealish the option to switch his allegiance to England if he wishes. England is where he was born and where he grew up. It's where both his parents were born, too. He has lived there all his life and was due to play for them at under 15 level, but got sick prior to the match and left the squad. He has since played for Ireland all the way up to under 21, but there's a real doubt as to whether he will do so again. And it's not hard to see why he is hedging his bets as long as he can.

Irish football fans would like to see Grealish commit his future to Ireland. There's no surprise there. In the absence of any promising youngsters breaking into the senior set-up, someone like Grealish is of huge value. It's been a long time since an Irish youth international played a starring role in a game as prominent as last weekend's FA Cup semi-final. He could be exactly the kind of player the squad has been crying out for.

Given his potential and his place of birth, England fans would naturally see declaring for England as his best option. The English media see it that way, too.

And given everything we know about Grealish, I'd have to say I'm on that side of the argument also. When you remove Ireland's self-interest and look objectively at the options he has, the obvious conclusion is to pick England if they want him to play.

Nobody covering this story can know how his career will develop. He may never reach a level where either the Ireland or England manager would want him to play at senior level. On the off-chance he does, though, wouldn't it be better to be eligible to play for England? Ireland seldom qualify for international tournaments, England rarely don't. Every player claims playing at a World Cup is a childhood dream. Grealish would best serve that ambition by choosing the country of his birth.

Factor in the monetary gains of being an English international and the case strengthens. Add that England is the place he has spent his entire life with his English-born parents, and you could see why the pull to play for England could be stronger. The greatest argument against this, and perhaps the only one, is that it will be easier to be selected for Ireland. That it would be his best chance to win caps. Looking objectively, though, if one team's best sales pitch is that they're worse than the other one, then maybe Grealish is right to take his chances elsewhere.

Ireland aren't Western Samoa, obviously, and Australia aren't England. Grealish may never get near to the level Cahill reached either. But like Cahill did back then, Grealish might be regretting a decision he made when he was in his mid-teens. Some players have a desire to do more than just play.

They want to play on the biggest stage they can. A burning ambition to be at every major tournament possible shouldn't need any explanation. Grealish won't fulfil that if he chooses Ireland and that's why he shouldn't.

rsadlier@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport

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