Tuesday 22 October 2019

FA technical director highlights their need for central defenders as Declan Rice decides whether to choose England over Ireland

Declan Rice
Declan Rice

Matt Law

West Ham United defender Declan Rice is considering switching his football nationality from the Republic of Ireland to England after being approached by Gareth Southgate.

Rice has made three senior appearances for Republic of Ireland, but they all came in friendly matches, meaning he can still change allegiances.

And the 19-year-old was left out of Martin O’Neill’s squad for the UEFA Nations League game against Wales in Cardiff on Thursday week because he does not want to commit himself to Republic yet.

O’Neill revealed England manager Southgate has spoken to Rice and sources believe the player is now in two minds over which international team he wants to play for.

Rice was born in London, but has Irish connections on his father Sean’s side. His grandparents Jack and Margaret hailed from Douglas in Cork before moving to England.

“England have spoken to him,” said Republic manager O’Neill. “He is taking time to make his mind up. He has done brilliantly for us. I'm giving him a little bit of time.

“At this moment I haven't given him a deadline. I think he wants just a little bit more time to do this. It's not frustrating in the sense.

“Again I get back to the point that I respect his opinion and respect his choice and it is eventually the player's choice. It was the same with Jack Grealish eventually. Again, getting back to respecting that, that's it.

“He has loved playing for us, it's been great for him. We've given him caps at senior level, albeit friendly games, he's taken that chance and been terrific.

“All of those things bring him into the England equation as well. The England manager has obviously seen the games he's played for us and thought, ‘Oh hold on’. If I was the England manager and any young players were on the horizon, I'd want to make sure I've spoken with them before they would make a choice.”

Grealish picked England in 2016 after playing for Republic’s under-21s, while Rice made his senior debut against Turkey in March and suggested he had already made his mind up to stick with O’Neill’s squad.

Speaking after the Turkey game, Rice said: “I'm fully focused on playing for Ireland. There's no decision to be made. If I didn't want to be playing for Ireland, I wouldn't be here.”

It would be a surprise if Rice is in Southgate’s England squad for the forthcoming UEFA Nations League game against Spain and the friendly with Switzerland, with Liverpool’s Joe Gomez expected to come in for Gary Cahill.

But technical director Dan Ashworth has highlighted that England are short of quality, young, central defenders.

“At St George’s Park we map out where the talent is and we might say we’ve got quite a few number 10s or quite a few number sevens,” he said. “I have to say our biggest discussion point with the majority of the teams is defenders. Across all the age groups it’s defenders.

“Where we perhaps haven’t got the depth – maybe not the depth, but the types – is the defenders. Our full‑backs 20 years ago were Stuart Pearce and Gary Neville, and we’ve got a different type of full-back now – more converted wingers.

“I worked with a manager some years ago who talked about the duvet being too short. You can cover your toes but you can’t cover your shoulders. I think that’s where we were 20 years ago, in that we had lots of defenders but not enough players who were good enough with the ball.

“Maybe we’ve pulled up the duvet and now have lots of players who are good with the ball, but our toes are sticking out.”

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