Saturday 16 February 2019

'He reminds me of Kante and Makelele' - Declan Rice's West Ham teammate says England call will be 'hard to ignore'

Declan Rice celebrates his first goal for West Ham last month. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Declan Rice celebrates his first goal for West Ham last month. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

West Ham star Michail Antonio believes Declan Rice would feature for both Ireland or England and empathised with his teammate's 'difficult situation'.

After sorting out his contractual situation at the London Stadium, Rice, who scored his first Hammer's goal in yesterday's 1-0 win over Arsenal, is expected to make a choice between Ireland and England soon.

Rice dropped a bombshell on previous manager Martin O'Neill by making himself unavailable for the Nations League game against Wales in September after meeting with England boss Gareth Southgate over the summer.

Despite representing Ireland from U-16 to U-21 level, and winning three caps in friendlies earlier this year, the Londoner has left open the option of switching by avoiding a competitive outing.

Speaking on Goals On Sunday on Sky Sports, Antonio said he has spoken to Rice about his predicament.

"It is a difficult situation, I can't put myself in his shoes. I've spoken to him about it, he has got a bit of loyalty to Ireland. Obviously, he has played through the younger ranks, so he has got that bit of loyalty to them. But when England come knocking, it is hard to ignore," he said.

"I think he's doing the right thing by taking his time but I believe that it doesn't matter who he picks, he is going to be playing for either team.

"I don't think there are many players better than him in that defensive, holding position.

"Holding midfield is his best position because he just breaks everything up. He reminds me of Kante and Makelele. He's right up there. He breaks things up and get the team ticking."

Republic of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy held talks with Rice and his family last month and has also discussed the situation with England manager Gareth Southgate.

"I spoke to Gareth and he saw him as a centre-back," said McCarthy last night.

"I thought because he's not playing there at the moment, he wouldn't be in there (England squad) in front of the ones already in there, plus he's not been in their youth system and come through like he was with ours and Gareth Southgate was running theirs for a long time.

"I want him playing in the position he is now at West Ham, for now and see where he develops. I think he saw himself initially as a centre-half but then he is enjoying midfield. I said to him, 'I'm looking to build a team around him from March onwards'. Are England?

"I'd like a decision at some stage. December's gone, we're into January, it will come around pretty quick. But there's no worries with him. It's not like we have to change him over from one to the other. I thought it (chat) was positive at the time. He was more concerned at the time with getting his contract sorted out. That was a big issue."

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