Roy Keane has never been one to back down from a confrontation, but there’s no question he got this argument very, very wrong.
The Manchester United and Republic of Ireland legend was once so sure Declan Rice would stay with the Boys in Green that he declared: “He’s Irish, it’s very straightforward.” Those comments haven’t aged well.
West Ham midfielder Rice may only be 23 but he’s already become one of the must trusted midfield players for both club and country.
Considered one of English football’s most exciting rising stars and linked with a £100million-plus transfer to Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester United, Rice has already amassed 150 appearances domestically for the Hammers, with the Kingston upon Thames-born star also racking up 27 England caps.
It’s perhaps easy to forget, then, that he was an Irish international only four years ago.
His surprise change of allegiance was made even sweeter for English fans, as it came after a bold statement from Keane, who was once left bemused when a reporter asked if Rice would make the switch from Ireland to England back in 2018.
“Erm, well, it is going to be pretty difficult if he is Irish, and he is Irish,” Keane replied matter-of-factly.
“He plays for Ireland.”
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The reporter then asked: “He has given every indication that Ireland is where he wants to play?”
To which Keane replied: “Yeah, because he is Irish. Where else would he want to go?
“If you had to chose Ireland or England, it is pretty straight forward, isn’t it? Ireland.”
Fast-forward a few months to February 2019, and Rice officially announced that he wanted to play for England, the country of his birth.
The midfielder made three appearances for Ireland in friendlies, with his final game being a man-of-the-match performance against the United States at the Aviva Stadium in June 2018.
Rice met with then-Ireland boss Mick McCarthy and the uncertainly around his international future lasted months.
However, he previously revealed he made his mind up after cheering on Gareth Southgate’s team as they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in the same year.
Of course, he would later be part of the team that went all the way to the final at Euro 2020… and we know the rest.
“Honestly, the World Cup was buzzing… I was actually in Dubai,” Rice previously told reporters.
“There was a massive football fan zone with a massive dome and it was crazy. It was mental.
“I remember watching the Panama game, the Tunisia game, the Sweden game. It was incredible.
“The singing before the game, the national anthem. Just being a part of it. I was a fan for that tournament. So, to be part of this tournament [Euro 2020] is unbelievable.”
After swapping allegiance from Ireland to England, he made his debut against Czech Republic in a 5-0 victory in their opening European Qualifier back in March 2019.
“I probably won’t think about it for a couple of days and then it will hit me,” Rice told West Ham TV at the time.
“To make my debut in front of 80,000 fans, and to have my family here; my girlfriend, my brothers, it’s special and to get the victory as well, I can’t really put it into words, but it’s a special night.
“You can’t describe it. I just couldn’t believe it. I was just bursting with pride. It’s everything that you’ve wanted to work for as a kid and it has come true. The call-up is one of the best feelings you’re ever going to feel.”
Scoring in the UEFA nations League in a 4-0 victory over Iceland in November 2020, he followed it up with another goal in last year’s 4-0 win over Hungry in a World Cup qualifier.
Since his debut, Rice has become a mainstay in the midfield and is eyeing a place in Southgate’s squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year.
“You hear a lot of stuff about how good he is at man-management and how he is with the players, and I have to say he has been top drawer with me,” Rice said on the current England boss.
“He gives you the confidence to go out and play, and he wants you to express yourself.”
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