International football often raises complex issues of identity and allegiance, with many players eligible to represent more than one country.
Several members of England’s World Cup squad had a decision to make about which country they wanted to commit to, including Declan Rice and Jack Grealish.
Although born in England, both have Irish grandparents and feel a strong connection to that part of their heritage.
This created some uncertainty about their international futures even as they chose to play for Ireland at youth level.
Rice even won three senior caps for Ireland (opens in new tab), all in friendlies, before electing to switch his allegiance to England.
Grealish turned down a couple of call-ups to the Ireland squad when Martin O’Neill was manager, preferring to keep his options open.
In an interview for the latest issue of FourFourTwo magazine, O’Neill discussed his experiences of dealing with both players and the decisions they eventually reached.
“He [Rice] played in three friendlies for us – he was never a sub in any other game. A lot of the press guys in Dublin were pressing that point but it’s just not morally right when someone might have the choice,” said the former Leicester City (opens in new tab) and Celtic (opens in new tab) manager.
“I am sure he and his father would’ve known the rules but I would’ve told them, ‘By the way, if you play in a competitive international, that means you can only play for us from then on.’
“Declan was brilliant for us and I had a really good communication with his father, but he was born in England, he had a right to choose, he chose England, and he’s done really well.
“It was the same with Jack Grealish: the choice was his, and I have absolutely no problem with someone making their own decision. This idea that you’d coerce them into playing for us? Absolutely not.”
Rice and Grealish were part of the England squad that reached the final of Euro 2020 and are currently competing in the World Cup.
Grealish came off the bench to score his second international goal in the opening group game against Iran (opens in new tab).
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