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Rice and peace (process)

If Declan Rice didn’t quite understand the full England experience before his first call up, he certainly does now. Back-page scandal? Check. Moral handwringing? Check. Bizarrely anachronistic references to the IRA? Check!
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But instead of chanting ‘no surrender’ from the stands, as a confusingly large element of the England support still do, Rice has been forced to apologise after an Instagram comment from back in 2015 somehow emerged in which he expressed support for the IRA - well, unless he is a follower of the Egyptian sun god. The offending post said: “my brudda. UP THE RA. Wait Till We Draw England”
The important thing to note is that Rice was 16 at the time of the post. And here The Warm-Up has a proposal: any social media posts made under the age of 18 should automatically be banned from public consumption. Instagram wasn’t around when The Warm-Up was 16, but it probably wouldn’t work out too well if someone got hold of the transcripts of its MSN Messenger conversations.
This is, however, undoubtedly a story. The context of Rice’s decision to switch from Ireland to England despite making three senior appearances for the former has already invoked complex notions of identity and allegiance - throw in expressed support for a republican paramilitary army linked to almost 2,000 deaths during the Troubles and you have quite a controversy on your hands. In fact, it might be the only thing more capable of infuriating certain sections of the England support than extending Article 50. Quite a feat, that.

Gareth Southgate is confident about Rice's character

Image credit: PA Sport

Rice made better use of his Instagram yesterday to apologise for his comment.
I am aware a poorly expressed comment I made when I was a junior player has been circulated on social media. I recognise now that my attempt to show support for my team-mates at the time could be negatively interpreted. While my naive words were not meant to be a political opinion and do not represent who I am, I sincerely apologise for any offence caused.
How will England fans take it? Well, Wembley isn’t particularly known for its compassion, understanding or nuance. Remember, this is a crowd which once booed Joleon Lescott for having the temerity to leave Everton for Manchester City, and David Bentley for having decided against representing England U21s during a summer tournament. So the chances are that if Rice does earn his first senior cap in the Euro 2020 qualifier against Czech Republic, it’s likely that the reception will be mixed.
Gareth Southgate, who it is fair to say did not expect to have to negotiate his way through an IRA-related controversy 24 hours before the start of Euro 2020 qualifying, was saying all the right things yesterday as he threw his support behind his new player.
“It won't affect anything in that respect," Southgate said about Rice’s potential selection.
He's fitted in really well with the team. He's looked excellent. There isn't a player that has been in the squad who I would hesitate to start in the game, so I am very confident in all of them.
"I'll go and just make sure he knows that firstly, that he's OK and that he's supported. I understand that it's not a situation that should just be dismissed but equally the context, the period of time that's passed and his age at the time is all relevant in how we should deal with it."

Scotland's shame

Scotland’s Stuart Armstrong (left to right), Johnny Russell and Oliver McBurnie appear dejected after the final whistle

Image credit: PA Sport

Well, it could be worse for Declan Rice, he could have played for Scotland (just FYI, The Warm-Up has no genealogical evidence to back this up).
After a week which saw a man tell police during an armed siege that his demands were “a bag of cans and Brendan Rodgers back at Celtic”, and a young man emerge from a coma only to declare with his first words for three months that “Hearts are s***e”, the Scottish national team showed it had an appreciation for dark humour too when conspiring to lose 3-0 away to Kazakstan in their first Euro 2020 qualifier - one of the worst results in their history.
Maybe it was the unnerving 3pm kick-off on a Thursday that threw Alex McLeish’s side off, or perhaps it was the fact that having won their Nations League group they are already guaranteed a play-off spot for the Euros however catastrophically bad their qualification campaign, but something clearly wasn’t right.
Scotland were 2-0 down after 10 minutes thanks to some shoddy defending and conceded again just after the break as the world’s 117th ranked team collected only their second win in 21 qualifying games.
Despite a successful Nations League campaign it leaves Alex McLeish fending off questions about his future. "I'll continue to do my job and won't get drawn into that," he said.
It was a poor night for us defensively. We had one chance just before they scored and I was thinking it was looking quite lively for us. But they scored two quick goals and we never reacted. They could have been prevented with better positioning. There's a lot of inexperience in the squad. We have introduced a few new names over the last year or so and it can take time, but I know we don't have time.
Next up for Scotland are San Marino on Sunday - potentially the best or worst possible opponents, depending on whether Scotland want to plumb new depths.

Teenage kicks

England's midfielder Jadon Sancho (L) and England's midfielder Callum Hudson-Odoi attend an England team training session at St George's Park in Burton-on-Trent, central England on March 21, 2019

Image credit: Getty Images

Back to England and it could be a young, dynamic team which takes to the field at Wembley tonight. If Rice, 20, plays he will bring the average down a fair chunk, while 18-year-old Jadon Sancho seems certain to start after Marcus Rashford withdrew due to injury. Another 18-year-old, Callum Hudson-Odoi, is also in contention after a glowing appraisal from Southgate.
I know a lot has been said about what’s the selection policy, is it on form or capability… in the end, the players have to have the quality to play in this shirt. Ideally you’d have them all playing regularly and ideally they’d have a certain number of games for their clubs but I can’t wait for clubs to pick players 50 or 100 times. That’s not the landscape we’re operating in. What we’ve seen are players who are good enough. So we’ll pick them, we’ll play them. I’ve got no hesitation. Callum’s fitted in. He looks every inch an England international in training and I wouldn’t hesitate to start him in any of the games. He doesn’t look fazed by it at all. I think young people today actually have great belief, have great confidence in their ability and aren’t fazed by being surrounded by older, more experienced players.

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