Declan Rice has been named the Republic of Ireland’s young player of the year just a few weeks after announcing he was switching his international allegiance to England.
Despite claiming last summer that there was no chance of changing national teams after winning three caps for Ireland’s senior side, Rice decided he wanted to play for England.
The West Ham midfielder refused a call-up by former Ireland manager Martin O’Neill at the start of the Uefa Nations League campaign last August and continued to reject opportunities to make his competitive debut for a country he had represented in all age group levels up to and including the senior team.
Before he was sacked by the Football Association of Ireland in November, O’Neill had privately suspected the 20-year-old was merely trying to extract himself as softly as he could from the Ireland set-up, but refused to publicly challenge the player.
Although Rice’s family were keen for him to continuing playing for Ireland, it is understood others around him argued England was the better career path, particularly as he had been courted by manager Gareth Southgate.
Rice changed his agent over the summer and recently agreed a lucrative new contract with the Hammers to reward him for his rapid progress at club level.
The Football Association is understood to have been particularly eager to poach Rice as there are not believed to be any better young defensive midfielders coming through its own development squads.
It is the second time in recent years that England have robbed Ireland of one of their best young players after Jack Grealish also refused several call-ups into the senior team, despite playing for Ireland’s Under-21s, before switching to England.
The Aston Villa star is yet to be named in a squad by Southgate, although Rice should be involved for the first time later in the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Czech Republic and Montenegro next week.
The loss of Rice is a huge setback for Ireland’s new manager Mick McCarthy, who is still trying to persuade Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford to accept an offer to play for them. Southampton winger Nathan Redmond is another player the Irish have been trying to adopt.
Despite the embarrassment caused, the FAI insisted it had to honour the result of a vote – carried out before Rice elected to play for England – decided by the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland. Rice will not attend the award ceremony in Dublin and it remains to be seen whether he will even acknowledge the award given the controversy his switch caused.
The FAI said in a statement: “This award maintains the integrity of the voting process in conjunction with the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland. The FAI thanks the jury members for their decisions relating to the awards.”
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