Declan Rice has been named the Republic of Ireland’s Young Player of the Year on the eve of his maiden England call-up.
Having come on leaps and bounds at West Ham this season, the 20-year-old decided after much deliberation to switch allegiance from the country he represented at both youth and senior levels.
Rice, who was born in London and has Irish grandparents, considers himself “to be of mixed nationality” and last week saw his switch to England ratified by FIFA as his three senior caps for the Republic came in friendlies.
Football Paradise understands the 20-year-old will be immediately drafted into the Three Lions set-up, with the defensive midfielder to be included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
Rice’s switch has sparked debate and the Football Association of Ireland put him further in the spotlight by announcing him as Young Player of the Year less than 24 hours before England’s squad announcement on Wednesday afternoon.
A statement from the FAI read: “At the time of the vote, Declan Rice was an Ireland international and qualified for the Young Player category in a year that saw him win three senior caps, all in ‘3’ international friendly games.
“Declan Rice has since opted to switch his allegiance to England. The FAI has completed his international transfer via the FIFA protocols and wishes him well in the future.
“This award maintains the integrity of the voting process in conjunction with the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland and the FAI thanks the jury members for their decisions relating to the awards.”
The FAI has confirmed that Rice will not be at the awards ceremony on Sunday, when he will instead be preparing to link up with his new England team-mates for the first time.
Resurgent goalkeeper Tom Heaton is set to join Rice in the squad for the Euro 2020 double-header, having shone for Burnley after fighting his way back into the side after a shoulder injury that ruled him out of the World Cup.
In-form Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse is under serious consideration, two years after winning his one and only cap, while Southgate is weighing up selection issues surrounding several of England’s Under-21 players.
Crystal Palace’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Saints goalkeeper Angus Gunn are highly rated by the England manager, but preparations for this summer’s Under-21 European Championship may well take precedence if injuries do not bite the senior side.
Joe Gomez, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones and Marcus Bettinelli were all part of the England squad in November but are currently out of action, while Eric Dier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Fabian Delph and Alex McCarthy have struggled for game time recently.
Southgate was at Bournemouth’s 2-0 win at Huddersfield as Callum Wilson made a goal-scoring return from a seven-week injury lay-off, but there remains questions over the fitness of John Stones and Jesse Lingard along with Harry Winks and Kieran Trippier.
The latter’s free-kick had England dreaming in July’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia, but his form has dipped this term and he missed Saturday’s Tottenham’s 2-1 loss at Southampton through a gluteal muscle strain.
Dele Alli provided an assist on his first appearance since January 20 and assistant manager Steve Holland was at St Mary’s to also run the rule over Danny Rose, who faces intense competition at left-back from Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell.
First-choice goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is under scrutiny after a poor display in Everton’s loss at Newcastle and uncapped Wolves captain Conor Coady has been monitored, while Adam Lallana caught the eye with his man-of-the-match display for Liverpool against Burnley.
Southgate is a long-term admirer of the 30-year-old, but whether he has played enough minutes to satisfy is an issue, perhaps too his profile as the manager continues to evolve the side.
The focus on the future led Jamie Vardy and Gary Cahill to effectively call time on their international career after the World Cup, while similar discussions were held with Ashley Young in Russia.
The 33-year-old did not follow the same path, though, and England’s starting left-back last summer has not given up on a recall.
“I’ve not retired,” Manchester United captain Young told Press Association Sport. “I’m not saying that I’ve retired.
“I’m still available if Gareth wants to call upon me. I’ve always said that I’ll stay available.
“If he’s looking at younger, different options, then that’s what he’s doing.
“I’ve just got to give my all for Man United and if he calls upon me, then I’ll be delighted.”
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