Tuesday 15 October 2019

'It's easy to be vocal when you haven't walked in those shoes' - Southgate jumps to defence of Rice after call-up

Rice was picked for Southgate’s England squad yesterday and will make his debut against Czech Republic or Montenegro this month. Photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs/File Photo
Rice was picked for Southgate’s England squad yesterday and will make his debut against Czech Republic or Montenegro this month. Photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs/File Photo

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Gareth Southgate has hit back at the "easy criticism" Declan Rice has faced, pleading instead for understanding for him, after the three-cap Republic of Ireland international switched his allegiance to play for England.

Rice was picked for Southgate's England squad yesterday and will make his debut against Czech Republic or Montenegro this month.

Just this weekend he was named as Ireland's Young Player of the Year for 2018, in recognition of his performances for Martin O'Neill's side before he switched to England.

The decision to switch led to Rice facing some fierce criticism, especially from former Ireland internationals such as Kevin Kilbane.

Rice announced his change last month with a lengthy statement on social media in which he said he considered himself of "mixed nationality", both a "proud Englishman" but also "proud of my family's Irish heritage".

Southgate, speaking at his press conference at St George's Park yesterday, jumped to Rice's defence, praising him for speaking "really eloquently" about the nature of being of dual nationality.

And he responded to Rice's critics, pointing to the fact that some of them "did not play for the country of their birth", a likely reference to Kilbane.

"I think it's easy to be vocal when you haven't walked in those shoes," Southgate said.

"I think (Rice) spoke really eloquently about being somebody of dual heritage and what that means."

Southgate pointed to an article Eni Aluko wrote in 'The Guardian' last month, in which the former England international wrote that there "needs to be a much more mature attitude in football towards players who have dual nationality".

"I saw a really good article that Eni Aluko wrote on that as well," Southgate said.

"For me it was easy, I could only play for England, so there was no question in my mind. And for lots of people that commented (on Rice), that was the same. There were others who have commented despite the fact that they didn't play for the country of their birth, so they have benefited from some of the rules that are there."

Southgate said that he had warned Rice from when he first started talking to him, before the World Cup, that he would face public hostility if he chose to switch allegiance.

"It was really important that he had the space because I knew that backlash would come," Southgate said.

"Maybe not everyone thought that might happen. But I knew for sure that that would happen. So he needed to be very certain in his mind that he was making the right decision and for the reasons that he's talked about." (© Independent News Service)

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