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‘Maybe it’s a little bitterness towards me’

Former Republic of Ireland midfielder Declan Rice has responded to James McClean’s belief that he is not a “world class” midfielder comparable to Spain’s Rodri and Germany’s Toni Kroos.

Rice played three friendly matches for Ireland in 2018 against Turkey, France and the United States, each alongside McClean before declaring for England, where he has since earned 53 caps.

“You know what? I played with James for Ireland for three games and got on very well with him,” Rice said before the final Group C match between England and Slovenia in Cologne. “I’m not going to sit here and criticize him. I thought it was a really excellent guy.

“When I left Ireland to come to England, I heard some things that obviously didn’t make him happy. He made comments a few years ago.”

McClean’s most recent criticism of the Arsenal star was delivered in the RTÉ studio before England’s 1-1 draw against Denmark on June 20.

“It is what it is,” Rice continued. “I’m not going to sit here and say anything about him. He himself has had a great career; I think he’s coming to the end of his career and he’s made over a hundred caps for Ireland.

“It would be easy for me to sit here and tell him something but, like I said, we’re at opposite ends of our careers now: he’s 35 and I’m 25.

“I know him, I’ve played with him, he’s entitled to his opinion and I’ve had to fight against a lot of those opinions from other people before.”

However, when pressed, Rice added:

“I may feel a bit bitter about not playing for Ireland, but to be honest, I don’t have anything bad to say about him. I see the comments but I don’t try to put too much energy into it.

“It is what it is and you move on. You live and learn.”

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