By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – West Ham United youngster Declan Rice was named in the England squad on Wednesday for this month’s European Championship qualifiers just weeks after pledging his allegiance despite having already played for Ireland.
The 20-year-old defensive midfielder, who has made three senior appearances for Ireland owing to having Irish grandparents, elected last month to make himself available to England manager Gareth Southgate.
His call-up comes in the same week that he was named Ireland’s Young Player of the Year.
World governing body FIFA ratified Londoner Rice’s switch last week as he had not played a competitive game for Ireland.
Rice, who can play as a centre back or in midfield, has been one of West Ham’s most consistent players this season, earning rave reviews and comparisons with former club great Bobby Moore.
Southgate said England have been tracking his progress and was delighted to be able to name him in his squad.
“There aren’t many players of Declan’s age playing as well as he is in the Premier League,” Southgate told a news conference after announcing his squad.
“When you’re asking a player to transfer association you have to feel the player has a future with you. Saying that, there are no guarantees, but his form has been excellent.
“We like his character, his leadership qualities and he can play as a holding midfielder or a defender. He will fit in very well with the way that we work.”
Southgate acknowledged Rice’s switch of allegiance had been questioned by some but said it was a common problem.
“It’s increasingly the case, if you look at our under 16s over 50 percent of them have dual nationality and some could play for more than two countries,” he said.
“It’s a complex landscape. I know people question the rules but at the moment they are our only guide to work from.”
Burnley keeper Tom Heaton has also returned to the squad for the first time since being injured in the build-up to last year’s World Cup finals while Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson, who has one full cap, has also been called up.
Everton keeper Jordan Pickford, who has suffered a dip in form this season and played poorly in his side’s defeat at Newcastle United on Saturday, retains Southgate’s confidence.
“Jordan has played extremely well for us, I think you could look at all the players in the squad and they have had moments where they have had difficult afternoons and that was the case for Jordan at the weekend,” Southgate said.
“I’m never keen to say who is the number one because you have to have competition and we will help Jordan what was hopefully a blip at the weekend.”
Tottenham Hotspur duo Dele Alli and Eric Dier were also included having just returned from injury and illness. Borussia Dortmund’s forward Jadon Sancho also retained his place.
England face the Czechs at Wembley next Friday before travelling to Podgorica to face Montenegro three days later.
Goalkeepers: Tom Heaton, Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford
Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ben Chilwell, Michael Keane, Harry Maguire, Danny Rose, Luke Shaw, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, James Tarkowski
Midfielders: Ross Barkley, Dele Alli, Fabian Delph, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Declan Rice
Forwards: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Callum Wilson
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge/Keith Weir)