Southgate supports Rice amid IRA storm


London (AFP)

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."

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."