Sunday 15 September 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Drawn-out nature of Rice international saga is doing none of the affected parties any favours'


Declan Rice’s slow exit is adding insult to injury. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Declan Rice’s slow exit is adding insult to injury. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Another day, and another bout of hand-wringing surrounding the international future of Declan Rice.

And yet, the sense lingers that there are legs in this saga yet, even if there's a feeling of inevitability about how it all might play out.

Next Tuesday, Martin O'Neill will name his squad for the November games with Northern Ireland and Denmark and it would appear that confirmation on Rice's intentions before then is unlikely.

Certainly, the FAI are not expecting it at this point.

Late on Tuesday evening, fresh reports emerged from the UK stating that the teenager was committing to England after another meeting with Gareth Southgate.

We've been down this road before to an extent; with O'Neill tackled at his last squad announcement after a definitive Sky Sports announcement that Rice was declaring for the country of his birth.

The player's decision to like an FAI tweet suggesting he was undecided - the consistent point made by O'Neill beforehand - added another layer to the circus.

It's getting very tiresome now, and every new story hinting at a conclusion brings the same range of responses; Is he really gone? Could the FAI have done more? Is this about the money?

For some Irish fans, it's a trigger to post on social media in the range of the teenager; that's one way of pushing a player off the fence.

The story has hung over the autumn and into winter and we are now at the point where the next definitive statement really needs to come from the player because nobody is emerging from this process with credit.

There are two ways of looking at the length of time he is taking to deliberate before going public with his verdict.

On one hand, there's an argument that it proves he is really torn; Séamus Coleman did come out strongly to state he felt Rice was genuine when he spoke about what his senior caps for Ireland meant to him and his family.

On the flip side of that, we have the collateral damage created by this delay - especially if his ultimate call is go for England.

O'Neill has been very careful to play it cool in public when speaking about Rice.

Yet for the Irish manager, this issue has spread across three different international windows and it's only seeking to develop further theories about the reasons why Rice might want to go.

The player and his father told O'Neill that Roy Keane's spat with Harry Arter was not a factor.

Now, there's a growing viewpoint that the blame lies at the door of the Irish boss because he didn't give Rice a cap in the World Cup qualifier with Moldova last October. At that stage, he'd made four league appearances for West Ham.

The late sub in that must-win qualifier which drew a massive cheer from the crowd was a debut for Sean Maguire; bringing in Rice for a cameo would have been fantastic in hindsight - but it's a flawed argument.

Yes, perhaps management should have foreseen how good he was about to become. The same could be said for Maguire around six months earlier. Yet players know the rules; they're not daft. That cynical exercise may just have brought forward Rice's hiatus.

Gareth Southgate duly pounced to plant the seed of doubt, even though there are people within the English FA who hold high hopes for players coming through who might be long-term competition.

The FAI have done their bit of poaching too so there's no moral high ground to reside upon here.

But if Rice is really planning to say goodbye to Ireland - and there's still a bit of an 'if' here - the slow exit is adding insult to injury.

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