England: Declan Rice responds to 'bitter' James McLean after Arsenal midfielder hit with 'overrated' jibe

England: Declan Rice responds to 'bitter' James McLean after Arsenal midfielder hit with 'overrated' jibe

Declan Rice believes James McLean is still “bitter” over his decision to swap the Republic of Ireland for England, after the Wrexham winger labelled his former team-mate “overrated”.

Rice, who was born in London but whose grandparents are from Cork, played for Ireland at age-group level and won three caps for the senior side in friendlies in 2018 before switching his international allegiance to England the following year.

The Arsenal star has since made 53 appearances for the Three Lions and become established as the centre-piece of Gareth Southgate’s midfield, but was blasted by McLean during Irish broadcaster RTE’s Euro 2024 coverage last week.

"I think Declan Rice is overrated,” the former West Brom and Sunderland forward said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a very good footballer, but the way the English media wax lyrical about him is completely over the top. For me, he’s not world-class.”

Rice made a strong start to the tournament with an impressive show in the 1-0 win over Serbia, but was heavily critical of his own performance in the underwhelming 1-1 draw with Denmark that followed.

Asked about McLean’s comments ahead of Tuesday’s final group meeting with Slovenia, Rice insisted he did not want to “sit here and slag him off”.

“I’ve known him, I’ve played with him,” he explained. “He’s entitled to his opinion and I’ve had to fight a load of those opinions from other people before.

“It might be a bit of bitterness towards me not playing for Ireland but I’ve not got a bad word to say about him, to be honest. I see the comments but I don’t try to put too much energy into it.”

Declan Rice won three senior Ireland caps in 2018 (AP)
Declan Rice won three senior Ireland caps in 2018 (AP)

McLean, who won 103 caps for Ireland, was highly critical at the time of Rice’s decision to switch allegiance to the country of his birth.

"He said he was a proud Irishman, then he said he was a proud Englishman,” McLean, then at Stoke, said in 2019. "If he's both, good luck to him but I don't buy it.

“If you're not proud to be here and we're a stepping stone, then sod off and play for someone else.”

On Sunday, Rice had followed captain Harry Kane at hitting out at criticism from former England players such as Gary Lineker in the wake of the Denmark draw, but was more relaxed when discussing McLean 24 hours later.

“I played with James for Ireland for three games and I got on with him really well,” he added. “I am not going to sit here and slag him off. I thought he was a really top guy.

“When I left Ireland to come to England, I heard a few things he was obviously not happy about. He made comments a few years ago.

“It is what it is. I am not going to sit here and say anything about him. He’s had a great career himself - I think he is coming to the end of his career now and he’s got over a hundred caps for Ireland.

“It would be easy for me to sit here and say something back to him but, like I said, we are at opposite ends of our careers now. He’s 35 and I’m 25.”