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For the love of the green shirt, or the greenback?


Filed: Thursday, 6th September 2018
By: Paul Walker


Gordon Strachan got it about right. The clue is in the Christian name, he said, when debating Declan Riceís international future.

Iíve always liked Gordon, he managed to get up FergieĎs nose regularly at Manchester United, so the tough little Scottish midfielder was OK by me!

And heís a funny guy too. I recall being stuck in a lift with him during the Portugal 2004 Euros and having a hilarious conversation with him about his various departures from club management. My suggestion that he was somewhat jaundiced about the people that run some clubs had him rolling about.

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Heís been a good international manager, too. So his remark about Rice cut through all the frenzy about which country our 19-year-old star should commit to, the Republic of Ireland or England. You work it out.

Strachan was talking on a Sky debate about international qualification, with our own Jack Collison alongside him. As we all know by now, Declan - as Irish a name as you can get -opted not to be included in the Republicís squad for two matches against Wales and Slovakia.

Heíd "had his head turned", is about the best way to describe it. Now it seems, if you believe the mass of Irish media speculation - and I do - Declan will make some sort of statement next week when all the international dust settles and opt to stick with the Irish and say no to Gareth Southgate.

And thatís as it should be. I am beginning to feel some sympathy for Rice, heís just a kid and finds himself stuck in the middle of the cash-crazy football industry and the agents and officials who invest it.

The regulations over country qualification are a mess, and there to allow big countries to plunder young players who have escaped their net initially and turn up doing well for smaller nations.

They also help, obviously, small nations who have been the victims of the mass movement of people. Economic migrants if you want, where parents and grandparents have moved to different countries in decades gone by.

The UK is clearly full of them. The Irish, Welsh and Scots have for generations moved to England. And that provides a huge pool of young people, some of them footballers, who have duel nationality. The Irish, seemingly, more than most.

There was never a problem with Rice from his school days. Born in the Home Counties, his grandparents hailed from Cork so one of his parents is at least half-Irish. Declan has played for the Irish at Under 16, Under 17, Under 19, Under 21 and three (friendly) caps for the senior side. Thatís 23 caps in all. Never a hint of English interest.

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That decision to play for the Irish was initially made quietly in the Rice household, without agents and club chairmen in the background with their opinions. Rice wanted to play for the country of his grandparents, that was his heritage.

Collison had a similar choice. Born in London he played for Wales through his grandparents, but until he figured in a competitive international there was always chatter about changing his mind if England came calling.

But I feel the original decision these lads made is the purest. How they felt deep down, nothing to do with money or trophies, and Rice knows heís Irish. His choice made then without pressure, and I hope itís his choice now with the spotlight on him.

He has come up against the grandparent rule which allows a player to change his mind as long as he hasnít played a competitive international. And thatís where England boss Southgate comes in.

Whether it was the FA contacting Rice direct, or someone from his management team letting the FA know of the situation, we will never know. But I bet it was his new agents. These are the people who are playing hardball with West Ham over Riceís next contract; the current one runs out next June, although there is a year option in the clubís favour.

Someone has worked out that if he progresses as he is, ends up playing for or - as David Gold wants - captaining England, then there is vastly more money to be made in contracts, endorsements, sponsorships etc than if he stays with the Irish.

These are the same agents getting under West Hamís skin over the contract negotiations. They want £30,000 a week, West Ham have offered something shy of £20,000 with add-ons. Somewhere in the middle there seems some happy medium.

Now I actually understand West Ham on this. Itís a huge amount of money. But I donít like their implication that big money will go to his head. Thatís not their job to suggest Rice could go the way of other young players; this is a market place.

It has not helped that his current deal is a flat £3,000 with extras. Reece Oxford is on £20,000 a week and Dominique Quina was on £6,000 before he opted for Watford last month. And there are others in our youth set-up on significantly higher wages than £3,000.

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Problem is, Riceís new agents are now WMG management, who bought out SFX Sports 12 years ago to become arguably the biggest sports agents in the world. They have a portfolio of top US sportsmen, and when they acquired SFX - a company set up many years ago by Tony Stephens in the Midlands - they also acquired Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Jamie Redknapp, Robbie Keane and a galaxy of others. Including Anton Ferdinand.

They have a reputation of not messing around, they are an agency from the ínext levelí and they will have seen what we are paying some of Riceís contemporaries and want that for their latest young acquisition.

And I bet they know only too well Riceís value in the future as an England international right down the last penny. I am not surprised the kid was stopped in his tracks.

But it seems the Irish in him is winning the argument. Ireland boss Martin OíNeill is a sharp cookie and has played this straight down the line, apart from repeating several times that he has been talking to Riceís dad, who wants his son to stay with the Irish.

And off the record, many in the Irish camp have been quick to blame agents for turning Riceís head. A raft of Irish media stuff, in particular a fine piece by the excellent Jim Lawton, made it very clear that agents are behind all this.

Interestingly, this new Nations Cup will in many ways reduce significantly the amount of friendly internationals, virtually every game soon will be competitive, so the wriggle room will disappear.

All this has done nothing for Riceís club career this season. We were told all summer than he was being viewed as a holding midfielder, but he had 45 minutes at that job against Liverpool, one of the best teams in Europe, and was hooked by Manuel Pellegrini to get no closer than the bench since, apart from an excellent performance in the league cup win at Wimbledon.

But I do fear for Rice a bit. I fear he has been led into something complicated by a hard nosed industry that is only bothered about the money. I fear he may have burnt his bridges with some Irish fans, and that he will forever be known as someone who Ďwaveredí over his birthright, his heritage - and I blame people around him who are giving him advice.

Suddenly he was a turncoat in Irish eyes, and if you have even a vague understanding of Irish politics and the way some folk in Ireland view the English, you can appreciate the problem. Even if he now decides to stick with the Republic, there are many who will see him as tainted.

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I hope that is not the case. I hope he chooses Ireland, because that has always been his first decision. Southgate has done nothing wrong, nothing not allowed in the rules, but the morality of this grandparent rule bothers me. I would abolish it, you make a choice, because you can, because you can play for the country of your grandparents, then that should be it.

It has been amusing watching well-meaning English critics and bloggers getting involved in slanging matches with Irish players, pundits and officials. Suddenly they have realised that it is not a row they can win, you dabble in Irish politics at your peril.

I should know. My wife is half Irish, my sons can play for Ireland because of their grandfather, the bravest man I have ever met, and I will not elaborate on that further. But even though my boys were born in England, they do understand that Irishness, the same Irishness that made Rice chose the country of his grandparents. Itís as it should be.


Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.







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