Declan Rice has been compelled to issue a public apology on the eve of a potential England debut after it emerged the West Ham United player had posted apparent support for the IRA on social media back in 2015.
The midfielder had been 16 and a member of the Republic of Ireland’s junior set-up at the time of the Instagram comments, in which he wrote “upthera” on one, and “my brudda. UP THE RA. Wait Till We Draw England” to a team-mate on another.
While my naive words were not meant to be a political opinion and do not represent who I am, I sincerely apologise for any offence caused
Rice, born in Kingston-upon-Thames but whose paternal grandparents are from Cork, was a regular in Ireland’s junior teams and was capped three times by the senior side in friendlies before, after months of deliberation, he formally switched his international allegiance to England last month.
“I am aware that a poorly expressed comment I made when I was a junior player has been circulated on social media,” said Rice, named Ireland’s young player of the year only last week, via an Instagram story on Thursday. “I recognise now that my attempt to show support for my team-mates at the time could be negatively interpreted. While my naive words were not meant to be a political opinion and do not represent who I am, I sincerely apologise for any offence caused.”
Gareth Southgate insisted the "uncanny" emergence of the posts would not affect Rice's involvement against the Czech Republic in England's opening Euro 2020 qualifier, though the manager is expected to start with the more experienced pair of Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier in central midfield.
“He’s apologised,” said Southgate, conscious the Football Association have consistently appealed for England supporters not to engage in anti-IRA chants. “It’s not representative of what Declan believes and feels, and his views. And outside of that, the obvious point is that this was when he was 15 or 16 when he was engaged in a social conversation with friends. He’s explained how he views the world today and it’s difficult to know without speaking to him what the context of that was.
“It would be easy to comment on something without having all of the background and context of it. But our message doesn’t change and Declan’s statement is consistent with that, so we still would be against any of our supporters taking up that sort of stance and I don’t think anything changes from an FA or England point of view.”
The England manager intended to speak with Rice last night, “to make sure he knows that he’s supported, firstly”, with the FA to write to the player and remind him of his responsibilities. “I understand it’s not a situation that should just be dismissed but, equally, the context, the period of time that’s passed and his age at the time are all relevant in how we should deal with it,” he said.
Jadon Sancho is likely to make his first competitive start against the Czech Republic – ranked 44 in the world but without the Sevilla goalkeeper Tomas Vaclík and their captain Borek Dockal – after Marcus Rashford became the sixth withdrawal having returned to Manchester United for treatment on an ankle injury that had prevented him training all week. Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has never started a Premier League game, may gain his first involvement off the bench as Southgate's England side continues to develop.
Southgate has called up 71 players and used 56 in his 31 games in charge, and could add Aaron Wan-Bissaka to that number for Monday’s game against Montenegro with the Crystal Palace full-back, not used by the under-21s against Poland on standby to link up if further injuries are sustained against the Czechs.