Last week, Gareth Southgate named West Ham midfielder Declan Rice in his 25-man England squad ahead of their European Qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
The call-up was Rice’s first since completing his international transfer from the Republic of Ireland to England; the end of what was a long and drawn out saga which captured the imagination of football fans in the two respective countries.
While there’s no doubt that it still stings for Ireland fans to see Rice leave given his three international appearances in green and his apparent love for representing the country, for England, it is unquestionably a massive boost.
Another young prospect to add to an already ridiculously talented pool of players to choose from.
Reading Rice’s name in today’s squad, it’s easy to don the green-tinted glasses and cry foul over the 20-year old’s inclusion.
But bitter or not, and blind patriotism aside, let’s stop pretending this squad is not exactly where a player of his talent deserves to be.
Since the start of the season, Rice has been one of the finest young players in the Premier League, thriving in his role in front of the West Ham back four.
Still just 20-years of age and playing in a position that requires a notorious level of experience and ability to read the game, Rice has constantly impressed.
He has notched up a handful of man of the match performances with the Hammers including standout displays against Liverpool and Arsenal.
Rice was even name-checked by Pep Guardiola as a young player he admired, with many touting him to become the long term successor to the talismanic Fernandinho in the Manchester City midfield.
This is the level of player we are talking about.
Not a young prospect who is shining at underage level, or a player who is just breaking into the first team at a Premier League club. Rice is an elite young player in an elite league. His talent is undeniable.
Rice also has the distinct advantage of playing in a position that England look relatively light in.
If we explore the other midfielders that Southgate included in his 25-man squad, only Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier are directly comparable to the West Ham man in terms of playing style.
Dele Alli is far more attack-minded, as is Ross Barkley despite his move to a more central position at Chelsea, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has also struggled to break into Sarri’s starting XI.
Fabian Delph is more of a box to box midfielder, and even at that, he has essentially become a left-back in the past couple of years thanks to injuries at Manchester City.
That then only leaves Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier.
In England’s most recent games Southgate opted for a midfield three, with Eric Dier playing the central role and Henderson wide of the trio.
If we assume that Southgate will continue with 4-3-3, the Spurs man will be the player Rice will have to usurp to win his first Three Lions cap.
Based on the pair’s individual performances this season, Rice has unquestionably been the better of the two. He’s certainly good enough to start for England against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.
For Irish fans, it’s easy to be bitter towards Rice. The way in which he spoke so fondly of his love for playing in green, the apparent passion with which he sang the anthem, the level of performances he delivered for O’Neill’s side.
It’s important though not to judge the 20-year old’s ability on his decision to leave the Irish setup. You can question his character or his integrity and so on, but a player doesn’t become any less talented just because they leave for apparent greener (excuse the pun) pastures.
Rice would have certainly stood out in the Irish squad had he stayed, but he’ll do the same with England, regardless of the quality around him.
As bitter a pill it was to swallow and as hard as the whole situation is to stomach, based on performances and talent alone Rice deserves to walk into the English squad. One that is chocked full of young talent in a similar position club-wise to the 20-year old Hammer.
In Ireland, we need to see the wood from the trees. Cries of “he’ll never get near the England squad” were always going to fall on deaf ears given his ability.
He’ll continue to get better and many will continue to denounce him. Declan Rice is good enough, no matter how hard it is to admit.