Why England must win the race for Declan Rice allegiance
A chorus of praise, the humming of admiration and a tone of positivity –this week's feel-good anthem is here and it comes in the form of England’s latest squad announcement.
James Maddison, Jadon Sancho, and Mason Mount are the latest youngsters to be initiated into the senior set-up, following the trio’s impressive start to the campaign. These three players will deservedly consume the spotlight, but Gareth Southgate’s pursuit of another emerging talent has been writing a few headlines of its own.
A stirring set of early season performances from Declan Rice has triggered a tug-of-war between England and the Republic of Ireland for the West Ham United starlet. Even though the London-born teenager has represented The Boys In Green from U16s and the proud owner of three senior caps, he can still switch his allegiance to England due to them being won in friendly matches. While the basis of this FIFA rule leaves a lot to be desired, now is not the time to mull over the logistics and ethics of the situation. Instead, England must waste little time in flying through the window of opportunity and swoop in for this prized asset.
Despite enjoying a promising break out season playing primarily at centre-back, Manuel Pellegrini sees the 19-year-old’s future in the anchor role. An industrious nature, a capacity to pass with both feet and natural athleticism are just some of the traits showcased in Rice’s game that have left English supporters purring. Whilst an ability to play in two positions skilfully has resulted in a versatile label, recent performances have quashed any fears that this career may head down the dreaded utility player route.
Paul Pogba and Eden Hazard are already both validated members of the Hammers stalwart’s back pocket club, so this rising star is already showing that he is worthy of flaunting his talents across international football’s biggest stages. A career in this ever-improving England side will present such opportunities, but the England boss must make it clear to Rice that he is at the forefront of his plans. If Southgate made this claim, it would not be selling a selling a lie by any means.
For all of the attacking flair and natural creativity this current England team possesses, there is an alarming lack of depth in the holding midfield position. Liverpool general Jordan Henderson has made this crucial role his own, but when the likes of Jake Livermore, Jack Cork, and Nathaniel Chalobah have been presented as his competition, is that much of a surprise? Of course, there is Eric Dier, but his reliable-come-prosaic approach is not one that will help sustain the momentum of this new golden generation.
After adapting to life in the middle of the park so well and with plenty of Premier League experience already under his belt, the introduction of Rice to the fold is exactly what England needs, not only for the future but also for right now.
Having let the youngster slip through the net once, letting it happen twice would be an unmitigated disaster.