Michael Keane empathises with Declan Rice after he too left the Republic of Ireland set-up for England.

International eligibility has been a hot topic in recent weeks after the talented West Ham midfielder decided to represent his country of birth having played for the Republic’s youth teams and won three senior caps.

The fact all of those appearances came in friendlies meant Rice was free to switch to England, with Gareth Southgate naming him in the squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro.

The 20-year-old is the most high-profile player to switch national camps in recent years, but he will not be the last and certainly is not the first.

While Keane never represented Ireland in senior football, the Everton defender played for them between under-17 and under-19 level before making the switch to England’s youth system, although he admits he dreamt of representing the Three Lions when turning out in green.

Asked if he knew where Rice was coming from over the difficulty of the decision, he said: “Yeah, definitely. I have some sympathy for him.

“It’s not an easy decision, it wasn’t for me at the time, so I can only imagine it’s harder for him.

“I don’t know what his family situation is, who’s Irish or whatever, but I knew when I changed that I felt really, really English.

Michael Keane represented Ireland at youth level.
Michael Keane represented Ireland at youth level (Mike Egerton/PA)

“My dad is Irish but I don’t know any of his Irish family, so I’ve never really felt like I’m fully Irish.

“So, I don’t know how Declan feels but that was part of my thinking behind my choice.

“But it’s one of them things. He’s made a decision, we’re happy that he’s here and hopefully now people can now just forget that and let him prove his talent on the football pitch.”

Southgate said at last week’s squad announcement that over half of the players in England’s age group teams are eligible for at least one other country, making the decision on international representation an increasingly “complex decision”.

Keane told BBC Radio 5 live: “I think you’ve got to go with your instincts. I think you’ve got to go with where you feel like you belong.

“I always felt like I belonged with England and that’s why I’ve always dreamed of playing for England.

“Even when I was at Ireland, that was sort of… I wasn’t good enough to play for England at the minute, and at that time I was only young and small and still developing.

“I had in the back of my head that hopefully one day I could play for England.

“I can’t really give them too much advice. I think you’ve just got to go on your gut feel and obviously see how you’re performing week in, week out, and where you think you could end up in your career.”

Declan Rice has been training with England this week.
Declan Rice has been training with England this week (Martin Rickett/PA)

Keane made the switch from the Irish youth teams to England’s while part of the Manchester United set-up.

The now 26-year-old flourished after making a permanent exit from Old Trafford in 2015, with his form at Burnley leading to a big-money transfer to Everton two years later.

Keane’s initial struggles for form led to him missing the World Cup last summer but the centre-back has kicked on this term and returned to the fold.

“I think in general I’ve done well,” he added. “I know I’ve had a few games where I could have done better, but I think that’s normal. I think it’s hard for any footballer to play at their best week in, week out.

“I think it’s about if you do have a bad game, try to get over it as quick as possible. That’s something I didn’t manage to do last season but something I’ve learned from.

“I’ve tried to when I have had a bad game, put it behind me and move on, look forward, look at the positives. Hopefully everyone can see that this year.”