Thursday 19 September 2019

Rice delay offers some hope for O'Neill

Declan Rice. Photo: Sportsfile
Declan Rice. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

Declan Rice could delay a decision on his international dilemma until next year which may provide a glimmer of hope for Ireland manager Martin O'Neill.

Recent reports had indicated the West Ham United midfielder was leaning towards defecting to England but he'd need to make a transfer application to FIFA in the coming weeks to be eligible for the start of their Euro 2020 qualifiers in March.

As had been illustrated by Michael Duffy's case of switching from Northern Ireland to Ireland, it can take up to five months for the world governing body to finalise the changeover in nationality.

Speaking for the first time since making himself unavailable to Ireland in September, the 19-year-old insisted his Premier League club career at West Ham United remained the immediate priority.

O'Neill had suggested as recently as Tuesday that the Londoner would make a choice by the end of December on whether to resume his stay with Ireland or switch to his homeland.

The three senior friendly games Rice played from March to June didn't tie the player permanently to Ireland.

England manager Gareth Southgate is understood to have invited Rice to meet him in the past month at St George's Park where his potential place in the refreshed senior team was outlined based on analysis conducted of his club ascent.

Manuel Pellegrini will start the club's academy graduate for the 10th game in a row against Huddersfield Town today.

"Without a doubt, it is not an easy decision," Rice said about the tug-of-war.

"It is one of the hardest decisions I will have to make in my career. Martin was excellent when he came to my house and Gareth was excellent with me and they both understand the position I am in.

"I said I need some time as, if I am going to be playing for the rest of my career, I need to make the right decision. It's got to be the best for me and my family. They were both great to be fair."

O'Neill revealed he has another sit-down planned with Rice and his father Seán before a final decision is made.

It was his late paternal grandparents, Jack and Margaret, whom he presented his first cap from an U-16 international against Austria in 2015 to.

The Ireland manager, it seems, will also have to look inside the mind of Michael Obafemi to ascertain his intentions.

The Southampton teenager was handed his first senior call-up by O'Neill for the upcoming games against Northern Ireland and Denmark but Saints boss Mark Hughes has claimed doubts persist over which country he'll pledge allegiance to.

Dublin-born to Nigerian parents, the 18-year-old is eligible for England too.

Players treating international football like a transfer market is a live reality for the FAI.

On Thursday, Ireland's U-17s had Manchester City's Joe Hodge in their midfield against England, the country he represented already this season.

Likewise, English-born West Brom striker Louie Barry finished top scorer for England at a tournament in France last week but was yesterday selected in Ireland's squad for the Victory Shield in Kerry next week.

Once players are entitled under FIFA rules to one switch at all levels up to senior, the system will continue to be exploited, meaning Irish-born players are being deprived of spots by those undecided on what country they feel most attached to.

Irish Independent

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