WEST HAM star Declan Rice has spoken publicly for the first time since switching his international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland to England, calling it "the toughest decision" of his career so far.
London-born midfielder Rice, 20, played for the Republic at youth level and won three caps with the senior team in friendly matches in 2018, but committed his international future to the country of his birth last month.
Rice, who has Irish grandparents, first pulled out of the Ireland set-up last summer to consider his options before talks with new boss Mick McCarthy and England manager Gareth Southgate resulted in him opting for the Three Lions.
The versatile youngster – who can play both as a defensive midfielder and at centre-back – has made an impressive 62 appearances for the Hammers since his debut for the East London club in 2017, and scored his first goal as a professional footballer against Arsenal in January.
Speaking last night at the London Football Awards, where he was named Young Player of the Year, Rice told of his excitement over his international future with England.
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) 28 February 2019
"It is the toughest decision I have had to make so far in my career," he said.
"Being so young, I didn't think I would ever be in a position to make that call but it's one that I have made and one that I am looking forward to in the future".
Rice admitted he still had a lot of learning to do despite his continued success at club level.
He added: "Last year I made some mistakes but I have bounced back from that. I got subbed at Liverpool, knowing I had to work harder to get back in the team.
"But I have found my place in the team, the manager [Manuel Pellegrini] has shown a lot of belief and trust in me. I am really grateful to him for that.
"I am loving it, I am really enjoying it. Last year was tough because I was in and out of the side and the start of this season was tough.
"I am playing with a smile on my face, which is the main thing."