Blog#31 – Declan Rice left the Irish steaming…

Should you be able to change your international allegiance? If a more successful country came calling, would you jump ship? It has become the topic of discussion lately and will always be contentious among football supporters. The aforementioned Declan Rice has re-ignited this debate as he recently switched his allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England.

To give some background, Rice has represented the Republic of Ireland at an international level all throughout his youth, starting with the under 16’s back in 2015. Eventually making his senior debut in 2018, Rice was born in England to an English mother and Irish father, with his Grandparents originating from Cork, located just inland from Ireland’s southwest coast.

So why the change? Well, Rice admitted that it was a difficult decision to make, (I would say due to the impending backlash from the Irish fans), but ultimately Rice chose England. He believed it would be the best decision for his football career, and unfortunately I would have to agree with him.

The Republic of Ireland international football team  is placed 34th in FIFA’s international ranking system and has not qualified for the a World Cup since 2002. They did  qualify for the European championship in 2016 and were successful in making it to the round of 16, but their record is in international competitions, as of late, is relatively poor to say the least.

England on the other hand, ranked 5th in FIFA’s international ranking system, have qualified for the past 6 consecutive World Cups, placing fourth in the most recent edition, and have been vastly more competitive in the UEFA European championship. There is also a considerable boost in earnings for representing the Three Lions on the international stage, (of-course there is). Additionally, Gareth Southgate, England’s current manager, is keen to include the defender in the international side. The decision is almost a no brainier for Rice.

What, in my opinion, would make the decision rather difficult is that both the England and the Republic of Island football community are very patriotic, especially when it comes to who represents them in international football. Hence why the move has become quite controversial among the Irish fans with a number of Irish football pundits being quick to criticise the young footballer.

Rice is within his right to represent England. Fifa’s rules state that,

“players must be able to demonstrate a “clear connection” to a country that they had not been born in but wished to represent. This ruling explicitly stated that, in such scenarios, the player must have at least one parent or grandparent who was born in that country, or the player must have been resident in that country for at least five years.” FIFA 2004

This leads me to ponder, what would you do? Australia being such a culturally diverse nation, I would say most of us would be eligible to represent another country, if we were professional footballers. I would be eligible to represent the Netherlands, Egypt and Australia… even though my family name originates from Malta.

Is this because FIFA’s rules are flawed? Should it be changed so that once you have selected your allegiance, you’re unable to ever change? If that were the case, we would probably have a number of different footballing idols than we have today.

Tim Cahill would still be representing Samoa, effectively changing his entire playing career.  Jermaine Jones could have had a stellar international career with Germany as opposed to the USA. Thiago Motta would have  also experienced a very different international career with Brazil rather than the one he had with Italy after switching to the ‘Azzurri.’

I believe that the rules designed by the governing body at FIFA are fair and we do not have any reason to complain when a player changes their mind about what country they will represent, (although we complain anyway). Every country is culturally diverse in its own way and footballers should be able to represent the country where their heart lies.

The criticism around Rice has come primarily from the Ireland supporters. Rice has been touted as one of the next best defensive players in the game and big things are expected of him. They would understandably feel hard done by after he had previously stated that ‘there was no question about who would play his international football for’.

But at the end of the day, Rice should not have to explain himself to anyone about why he is representing a particular country. If his choice abides by FIFA’s rules, he is free to do as he pleases and shouldn’t be criticized for doing so. But then that wouldn’t be football, would it? We criticise every little part of the game. We can be a very poisonous community at the best of times.

Just to add in some extra spice, I believe that the Republic of Ireland has forgotten they had poached a number of players from other countries, including Northern Irish players. So is this just a case of “I want it now because I don’t have it?”. Regardless of the excuse of the Irish supporters, good luck to Declan Rice. I hope that for his sake, it  turns out to be the correct career move for him.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. What countries are you eligible to play for? And, if you had the chance would you change your allegiance to advance your career?

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