Ever since the Republic of Ireland lost the young starlet Jack Grealish, who switched his allegiance from Ireland to England, the discussion about commitment and the rules around qualifying for a national side has grown and garnered great interest from the media and pundits alike.
While a large majority of Irish supporters were quick to denounce Grealish’s decision, others lamented the loss of a bright young player who could’ve been pivotal to the resurgence of the Irish team. Declan Rice is the latest player to feature in an instalment of this allegiances debate. Rice has been with the Republic of Ireland team since under-16 level, made his first senior appearance against Turkey in 2018, and has made two more since then. Suddenly, last month, Rice announced he was withdrawing himself from consideration for the national squad for the Nations League competition, pending a decision on his future with the national side. When the news started to emerge that Rice had met with England manager Gareth Southgate, Irish supporters were all too familiar with the scenario. Over the last few weeks, everyone has offered their opinion on the decision, with some fed up with the apparent back-tracking of a player who had seemed to commit himself to Ireland earlier this year. With Rice taking time to consider his options, a training ground bust-up between Irish assistant manager Roy Keane and Harry Arter ended with Arter withdrawing himself from the squad too. The failure to secure the permanent commitment of another potential star player as well as losing a premier League player in Arter has dampened Irish hopes for a team that could realistically compete internationally.
Instead, the Republic of Ireland team has suffered from a lack of creativity and has slumped to one of the team’s worst results in recent times; a 4-1 humiliation against Wales, a team that Ireland overcame 1-0 last year during the World Cup Qualifiers. Over the summer months, there have been repeated calls for a drastic change in the management system of the national side to improve the style of play, as the team has received a lot of criticism since missing out on a World Cup spot. While the majority of experts expect the knock-on effects of both situations to have done damage to the unity and cohesiveness of the squad, Ireland captain Seamus Coleman has however reached out and stated that the Irish team would welcome Rice back with open arms. On the other end, Gary Neville has criticised Rice for his indecision, claiming that players at this age should know full-well who they want to represent, and that at this age this is the last kind of incident a player with so much potential should be getting himself into.
With all the attention that the player is receiving from both national managers, the supporters, the pundits and other players, the decision cannot be an easy one at this time. We can all say that we’d know our choice immediately, but the reality is that we don’t have to make the decision, a decision that could change the course of his entire career. Regardless of whether Rice chooses to stay with Ireland, the team is disjointed; the humiliation in Wales followed by a lacklustre showing in Poland hasn’t brought the hope or excitement the Nations League competition has brought other sides, but rather shown how unprepared this Irish side is, tactically and managerially.