WEST HAM footballer Declan Rice has pledged his international allegiance to England over the Republic of Ireland after several months of speculation.
London-born Rice, 20, played three times for Ireland in friendlies under former manager Martin O'Neill, having played for his Corkonian grandparents' nation since under-16 level.
Back in September, the defensive midfielder asked for time out to decide his international future as winning a competitive cap for the Boys in Green would have tied him to the country for the remainder of his career.
"This has been an extremely difficult decision," Rice tweeted in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
— Declan Rice (@_DeclanRice) February 13, 2019
"I have equal respect and love for both England and Ireland and therefore the national team I choose to represent is not a clear-cut, simple selection.
"Ultimately it is a personal decision that I have made with my heart and my head, based on what I believe is best for my future.
"I fully accept that some Irish supporters will be disappointed … My pride at wearing the Irish shirt was always 100% genuine.”
In a statement released via the FAI, Ireland boss Mick McCarthy shared his reaction to the news.
"Declan rang me today and said he has decided to give it a go with England. Good luck to him," he said.
STATEMENT | Declan Rice confirms intention to pursue international career with England
— FAIreland (@FAIreland) 13 February 2019
The switch of allegiances represents a devastating blow to the future of Irish football, with Rice widely regarded as one of the best players of his age in the world.
The versatile footballer has made an impressive 59 appearances for the Hammers since his debut in 2017, and recently scored his first goal as a professional footballer in a 1-0 home win against Arsenal at London Stadium.
Able to play both in the centre of defence and midfield, Rice will be confident of a place in the Three Lions squad in the near future – especially given Eric Dier's inconsistent efforts as manager Gareth Southgate's only natural defensive midfielder.
Former England striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker poked fun at the news on Twitter, writing: "He's one of our own....He's one of our own...Declan Rice....he’s one of our own."
See all the reaction below:
He’s one of our own....He’s one of our own...Declan Rice....he’s one of our own.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) 13 February 2019
If you’re a “proud Englishman” then why play for us in the first place?
— Kevin Kilbane (@kdkilbane77) 13 February 2019
Declan Rice: "I consider myself to be of mixed nationality. I am a proud Englishman, having been born and raised in London. However, I am just as proud of my family’s Irish heritage and my affinity and connection with the country. "https://t.co/Iuo3Ix3EYF
— Rob Harris (@RobHarris) 13 February 2019
20-year-old footballer more eloquent on Anglo-Irish relations than almost any politician I've heard in last 3 years covering Brexit: "Like so many people, I consider myself to be of mixed nationality. I am a proud Englishman. I am just as proud of my family's Irish heritage." https://t.co/FaAfiPjjNi
— Tom McTague (@TomMcTague) 13 February 2019
Declan Rice has led us down the garden path. What an absolute rotter. pic.twitter.com/96MCQQdNOI
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) 13 February 2019
— Philip O'Connor (@philipoconnor) 13 February 2019
No surprise Declan Rice has decided to declare for England. Rumour has it he decided last month.
Rules should change to stop situations like this in the future. Once you earn a cap for your country, that should be it. Shouldn’t be allowed to switch at a later date pic.twitter.com/pAtcV3Xkmw
— Kevin Palmer (@RealKevinPalmer) 13 February 2019
We're a month from Brexit. Declan Rice must be the only person in the UK trying to get rid of his Irish passport.
— Patrick Maguire (@patrickkmaguire) 13 February 2019
14th Jan - FA Ireland tweet: "Happy birthday to Ireland international Declan Rice."
13th Feb - Declan Rice submits a written request to FIFA for the transfer of his international registration from ROI to England. pic.twitter.com/g4lWLxkcNy
— bet365 (@bet365) 13 February 2019
“People high up in Irish football told me he was about to declare for Ireland.”
“They will be shocked by this.”@DannyKellyWords is shocked Declan Rice has picked England over Ireland.
Has Rice made the right choice? pic.twitter.com/W9FwOlquIL
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) 13 February 2019