Monday 17 December 2018

Declan Rice's Ireland decision may hinge on new club contract

West Ham's Declan Rice. Photo: PA
West Ham's Declan Rice. Photo: PA

Colin Young

Declan Rice's negotiations for a new contract with West Ham United could hold the key to the decision on his international future with the Republic of Ireland.

Ireland manager Martin O'Neill continues to wait for the 19-year-old to make up his mind on whether he will represent Ireland or England after asking not to be named in the last two Irish squads.

Rice has made no public statement on his intentions and, as the saga drags on, it has been left to O'Neill and England manager Gareth Southgate to reveal the details, with both insisting there is no pressure on the Croydon-born player who qualifies for Ireland through his grandparents.

"You'd imagine this would be resolved by the end of the year," said O'Neill last week. "Speaking to Declan's dad, the player wants a resolution to it. If it means him taking a bit of time I'm happy with that. Yes, there will be a point where it has to end, but I'm willing to wait for that. If taking an extra month comes up with the right result then I'm happy with that."

Both international managers are conscious that Rice, who has recently changed advisers, has crunch decisions to make surrounding his immediate future for club and country.

His current £3,000-a-week West Ham contract expires at the end of next season but last month, at the start of negotiations, he turned down an increase to £15,000. Manager Manuel Pellegrini, who has restored Rice to a defensive midfield role recently, has told him to take his time to make the right decision and forget about earning "more or less money".

West Ham director David Gold has made no secret of his desire to see Rice follow in the path of Hammers legend Bobby Moore and captain England wearing the number six shirt. Earlier this year his tweets announcing that theory were laughed off by Ireland's assistant manager Roy Keane. Now they could prove a crucial element in those ongoing talks.

There is no question of Rice leaving the London club. It is another 14 months before he can talk to other clubs, and he deserves to be rewarded for his outstanding rise and the influence he has on West Ham. But if Rice wants more than their initial offer, he may have to contemplate switching his allegiance to the country his club would prefer.

West Ham have always had a prominent Irish following, but it is safe to say this is one of the few issues on which the board and the majority of the club's supporters would agree.

After Rice was again left out of the senior Ireland squad by O'Neill on Thursday, speculation was rife that Southgate had persuaded him to make the switch to the country of his birth. There were even live television reports, put to a rightly sceptical O'Neill, that the English FA had submitted paperwork to FIFA. Rice has since contacted former Ireland team-mates from his time with underage squads to insist that he has not made a final decision on his international future.

England need official FIFA documentation to register Rice because he played in the three friendlies for Ireland against Turkey, France and the United States last season. The process takes around six weeks, which rules him out of an England appearance in their Nations League campaign, but only Rice knows if he will be available for Ireland's final game in this phase against Denmark in Aarhus.

It is understood the FAI are considering raising the issue with FIFA around the rule governing players' qualification for senior teams after they have appeared in friendlies. FIFA changed the rules to crack down on nations, particularly the bigger ones, who flooded friendly teams with players of joint nationality simply to register them.

Underage appearances, particularly in the UEFA tournaments, and friendlies are not taken into account. Only competitive senior caps count as an official registration. With the introduction of the Nations League, UEFA countries will have fewer opportunities to arrange 'meaningless friendlies' although they will still exist.

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