Martin O’Neill still hopeful Declan Rice will return to Ireland
West Ham's 19-year-old prospect still agonising over his international future
Declan Rice in action against Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. The West Ham youngster is still undecided about his international future. Photograph: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty
There are clearly those who believe the ongoing delay regarding Declan Rice’s announcement on his international future is all part of a process aimed at easing his way towards declaring for England.
As the 19 year-old “liked” then a little while later “unliked” an FAI tweet reporting Martin O’Neill’s claim yesterday that he is still mulling over his options, it was that little bit easier to believe he is genuinely struggling to make what may be a career-defining decision.
It was reported at one point yesterday that the 19-year-old West Ham midfielder had actually resolved to play for England and that the FA there was preparing to start submitting the paperwork required to effect his change of international allegiance.
By evening, however, the Sky Sports journalist behind the report was on Twitter with a retraction.
“Sources close to the player have contacted us to tell us that Rice is yet to decide categorically,” wrote Rob Dorsett. “Clearly, a complex situation with emotional pulls in both directions.”
The earlier emergence of the story just a few minutes after O’Neill had concluded the main part of his press conference caused some uncertainty with the Ireland manager admitting that he was not in much of a position to comment on a story he did not know the origins of. Dorsett’s colleague at the Aviva, Guy Havord, might have got it in the neck from the Ireland manager if only the northerner could reach that high.
As it was, he was clearly sceptical that he would learn of the player’s decision though the media and by mid afternoon officials at the English FA had denied the central plank of the report, that they were preparing the papers required to push the player’s international transfer through. Gareth Southgate was insisting that nothing of any consequence had changed since last month’s flurry of Rice-related interest.
Bread and butter
O’Neill continues to insist he is “hopeful” the 19-year-old will eventually opt to resume his international career with Ireland. He has, he says, spoken to the midfielder recently and met with Rice’s father, Seán, with whom O’Neill appears to enjoy a good relationship. Rice Snr, it seems, remains well disposed towards his son choosing Ireland.
“He’s got a contract to sort out as well at this minute,” said O’Neill, “and while we all want players to be ready for international football, club football is their bread and butter. He’s a young kid, he wants to make a decision at the end of the day, and whatever decision he makes will be for the rest of his footballing life. I understand these things.
Rice’s family, the Ireland manager insists, remain an important part of the equation and on that front, he suggests, there are positive signs.
“You know where his father stands on this. And also, I think, the rest of the family. With the brothers, I think, there might have been an initial feeling that they wanted [him] to go to England at the time because they’re born there, and so is his dad. But I think those things have changed around. He just needs a wee bit more time.”