Former Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill has told talkSPORT he would never have played Declan Rice or Jack Grealish in competitive games.
O’Neill had both of the current England World Cup superstars under his wing while coaching Ireland, but lost them both to Gareth Southgate.
That’s despite the English-born duo both featuring for Irish youth sides, while Rice even made three senior appearances in friendlies.
FIFA rules at the time stipulated that players can still change international allegiances after playing three or fewer non-competitive games, which proved to be the case as Rice went on to become an England regular.
O’Neill joined White and Jordan on talkSPORT to discuss a number of topics, and one disgruntled Irish listener was disappointed he didn’t manage to keep Rice and Grealish, but as he explained, that was never on the cards.
He explained: “First of all, you can’t coerce players into becoming international players, he played in three friendly games at senior level, he was terrific in the games, it’s as simple as this: Declan Rice wanted to play for England.
“He’s born in England, it really is as simple as that, you cannot just bring them into an international game, a competitive game, where the minute they play a competitive match for the country that’s them announcing they’re going to be playing for them.
“That was never going to be the case, you can’t deceive people into playing these games, you cannot force them into that.
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“Jack Grealish was exactly the same, he was in my early stages of international management, I went to see Jack Grealish, I went to see his dad, Jack Grealish was born in England, and Jack Grealish did play some underage football for the Republic of Ireland, which he loved doing.
“But then when you have to make a decision, that decision was made by Jack Grealish and his father, his father’s also English too, you might go back to heritage as well, but that’s what they wanted to do, and I’m not going to disavow them of that.”
Before FIFA modernised their national eligibility rules in 2020, if Rice or Grealish played a single competitive minute for Ireland’s senior team, they would no longer be able to play for England.
Due to the quality of the West Ham and Manchester City superstars, some Irish fans may feel a little hard done by that O’Neill didn’t manage to get either player on the pitch in a competitive clash, but he revealed that was never an option.
“I would never have done it, I couldn’t possibly do that, that would be wrong for a start,” he said. “And secondly, it’s not as if they don’t know the rules.
“The players know the rules and the players’ dads know the rules, it couldn’t be more simple, so this idea of taking criticism for not coercing two players who are now playing for England.
“I wouldn’t possibly have done it, and Declan Rice would have been aware of it so he wouldn’t have done it.
“If Gareth Southgate had said ‘listen son, you haven’t got a prayer of getting in this side over the next five years’ there might have been a conversation, but that wasn’t the case.”
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- Declan Rice and Jack Grealish ‘were never going to play for Republic of Ireland’, says Martin O’Neill, who responds to disgruntled fan by insisting both stars only saw their future with England
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