England manager Gareth Southgate expressed his support for Declan Rice after the West Ham midfielder apologised on Thursday for old social media posts that appeared to express support for the IRA.
Rice, 20, is in the England squad for the first time for Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic on Friday and Montenegro four days later having switched his international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland.
Comments made on social media in 2015 surfaced on Thursday with the hashtag ‘UPTHERA’.
“I am aware that a poorly-expressed comment I made when I was a junior player has been circulated on social media,” said Rice in a statement.
“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.”
Southgate played down the controversy by pointing out how young Rice would have been at the time of the comments.
“He’s apologised. It’s not representative of what he believes and feels and his views,” said the England manager.
“The obvious point is it was when he was 15 or 16 in a social conversation with friends where I think any of us at that age have probably said things, written things, discussed things that might not look the way we’d want them several years later.”
– Rashford ruled out –
On the field Southgate also has a selection headache with Marcus Rashford ruled out for both qualifiers in the coming days due to an ankle injury.
The Manchester United forward will instead return to his club ahead of a vital final few months of the season for the Red Devils.
“He’s been with our medical team all week,” said Southgate. “It’s clear to us he is not going to be ready for our matches so we’re going to send him back to the club.”
Rashford’s absence means that one of 18-year-old pair Jadon Sancho or Callum Hudson-Odoi is likely to start alongside Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in attack.
Hudson-Odoi is yet to start a Premier League game for Chelsea and was only called into the senior squad on Monday due to injuries.
But Southgate insists he has the faith in the winger’s talent that Maurizio Sarri often has not at Stamford Bridge this season.
“Jadon has had more big match experience at this point, but Callum has fitted in brilliantly. I wouldn’t hesitate to start either of them, they are ready. They can play for us,” he added.
“Ideally you would have them all playing regularly and ideally they would all have a certain number of games for their clubs, but I can’t wait for that.
“I can’t wait for clubs to pick players 50, 100 times. That is not the landscape we are operating in.
“What we have seen in different positions is players we think are good enough so we’ll play them. Callum has fitted in, he looks every inch an England international in training and I wouldn’t hesitate to start him.”