Such is the nature of the shrinking world, movements of populations from one place to another, covering countries and continents, the concept of national allegiances are in question – though sadly, our gammon faced elites across the globe are finding it difficult to get with that particular program.
By Dave Bowler
Where, especially in the old world on this side of the Atlantic, once nationality was a very straightforward thing – French children born of French parents, English, German, Italian the same – such “purity” is now a thing of the past and a good thing too.
This is a global village, the only one we’ve got and a touch more internationalism and a bit less protectionism would be a good thing for us all, especially with the threats of climate change and resource scarcity that will engulf us in the next century.
It’s ironic then that that great bringer together of nations, international football, is starting to creak a little under the weight of those blurring national lines. Those simple late 19th century bloodlines are no longer the norm and football appears to be taking a very strange line on the consequences.
Nowadays, it isn’t that strange to have a child who is, let’s say, born in England to a German father and a Nigerian mother. And then go back a generation, back to the grandparents and that putative international goalscorer could be lining up for any one of maybe five nations that are laying claim to him or her.
That’s complex fare, but the answer is simple. The child chooses. You’d hope that choice would be based on a particular feeling for a nation but we must also be realistic and accept that in plenty of cases, that choice represents something of a second best. “I’m not going to be good enough for France. Ok, I’ll play for Egypt instead”.
Whether that was ever the thinking of the youthful Declan Rice, who knows. Going down the grandparents route, from 16 onwards, he played for Ireland, through the youth levels and onto the senior side, for whom he played in three friendlies.
But such are the rules of the game, that did not irrevocably bind him to an Irish future, for he didn’t wear the green shirt in a competitive game. And in February this year, he chose to transfer his status and become available for England, saying, “This has been an extremely difficult decision. I consider myself to be of mixed nationality. I have equal respect for both England and Ireland…it is a personal decision I have made with my heart and my head”.
That’s all fair enough, those are the rules and Rice has done nothing wrong in using them to become an England international. But the question is, should he have been given that chance? Certainly former Irish international Kevin Kilbane, himself born in England but the winner of a century of caps for Ireland, thinks not: “If you’re a “proud Englishman” then why play for us in the first place?”
You can only assume it’s because Ireland asked first and that Rice maybe never saw himself in a shirt with the three lions on it. But once it became apparent that England were very interested indeed, things became more complicated. Born in England, a card carrying Londoner, it would be understandable if the pull of Gareth Southgate’s side was stronger.
And, on a purely logical level, playing for England is likely to see him playing in more major tournaments, play more often in the later stages of them and enjoying the commercial benefits thereof than if he were playing for Ireland. Nobody can blame Rice on any level for that choice.
But surely he should never have had the option, just as Wilfried Zaha or Diego Costa should not have had that chance.
Surely the rules should be that once you make your international bed, you lie in it? And if you have to show patience, waiting for your preferred option when a different one comes calling first, so be it. For otherwise, as Rice will discover, there’s always going to be someone ready to question his commitment to the nation whenever he as a bad game for England. He might have got what he wanted, but I’m not sure that he’s ever going to be allowed to enjoy it and that’s a real shame.