Explainer: How it came to pass that players such as Declan Rice could switch international allegiances

A watershed ruling saw Tim Cahill switch from Samoa to Australia in the early 2000s.

West Ham's Declan Rice won three senior caps for Ireland in friendlies, but has now opted to declare for England.
West Ham's Declan Rice won three senior caps for Ireland in friendlies, but has now opted to declare for England.
Image: Mark Kerton

DECLAN RICE IS far from the only high-profile player to opt to switch international allegiances, but how did these rules come into place?

Up until the early 2000s, Fifa rules stated that players who represented a country at underage level could not play for another nationality’s senior team.

Not everyone was satisfied with these rules and there was one particularly high-profile example of a less-than-content player.

Tim Cahill was performing strongly for Millwall in 2003 and being linked with a couple of Premier League clubs.

Australia were keen to call up the midfielder, but couldn’t on account of the fact that he had made a brief substitute appearance for Samoa U17s as a 14-year-old.

Cahill and his family claim that they had no idea of the repercussions of that decision, and came to seriously regret making it.

However, the youngster was ultimately not forced to pay for that one substitute appearance for Samoa.

In May 2003 came the news that Fifa had decided to change the rules of international selection.

From January 2004, it was stated that players were eligible to represent one country at youth level and another at senior level.

In March 2004, Fifa added that players must have a “clear connection” to the nation they represent, on account of certain countries naturalising players from elsewhere.

Consequently, the current rules specify that a player must either have been born in the country they represent, have parents or grandparents from there, or have lived there for at least five years from the age of 18.

The new rules also specified that a player could switch allegiance even if he had represented another country at senior level, provided it was in non-competitive matches (i.e. friendlies).

The original rule change worked out well for Cahill.

“This is like winning a million dollars,” his father, Tim senior, told reporters at the time. “I’ve had such a guilty conscience all these years.”

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“All I can say is all good things come to those who wait,” added Cahill, who was born in Sydney and also eligible to play for Ireland on account of his father’s Irish descent. “This is unbelievable news. After all I’ve been through, I’m just over the moon. This is such a special moment. I persevered, and thanks to having the right people around me, it’s paid off. Playing for Australia has always been the ultimate dream, and now I can start thinking of playing in a World Cup. I can’t describe how that feels.”

SOCCER: NOV 20 Australia v Lebanon Tim Cahill (4) emotional after his last game at the international soccer match between Australia and Lebanon on November 20, 2018. Source: Speed Media

Cahill went on to score 50 goals in 108 appearances for his country, scoring in three World Cups (2006, 2010, 2014) and becoming a legend of Australian football in the process.

Many others have followed suit in the intervening years.

In addition to Rice, Aston Villa star Jack Grealish switched allegiance from Ireland to England in 2015.

The Boys in Green have also benefited from the rule, with players such as Shane Duffy and James McClean representing Northern Ireland at underage level before opting to switch to the Republic.

There have also been notable cases with high-profile players elsewhere, including Diego Costa (Brazil to Spain), Thiago Motta (Brazil to Italy), Kevin Prince Boateng (Germany to Ghana) and Wilfried Zaha (England to Ivory Coast).

Most Irish supporters are likely fed up by the will-they-won’t-they scenarios as exemplified by the cases of Grealish and Rice of late.

However, with society increasingly multi-cultural and dual nationality more commonplace than ever, it would be no surprise for similar cases to recur in the near future.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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