The international break used to be a chance for a p*** up – but now players realise how important it is

THERE was a time, not so long ago, when footballers would see an international break as an opportunity to let their hair down.

A chance to go on the p*** with a ‘golfing trip’. Or to go away with their wife and family for some rest and relaxation in Dubai or elsewhere.

Some players would cry off from their national team with a convenient minor injury. Many would take early retirement from international football.

But there has been a major culture change over the past five or ten years. It is extremely rare for elite footballers to get on the booze in mid-season.

And there is an increasing realisation that the peak of your career is very short and that you should maximise that, taking every opportunity to play for your country.

I felt I had a good chance of playing for England for exactly 67 days – the length of time Sam Allardyce was manager of the Three Lions in 2016.

I was playing consistently well for Watford in the Premier League and Sam said that I was in his thoughts, that he was considering calling me up, but then – after just a single game in charge – he was gone.

I wouldn’t say I gave up after that. And remember that Kevin Davies was 33 when he won his only England cap. So at the age of 32, I’m clinging to that. I’m clinging to you, Kev!

It would have been great to play for England but it is not something I have lost sleep over.

I could also have played for Jamaica, where my Dad was from and where my grandparents still live.

The possibility was put to me on a couple of occasions but it didn’t feel right to me.

I have never been to Jamaica and in footballing terms, I feel English because this is where I grew up and played all of my football.

That is not to say I don’t have immense pride in my Jamaican heritage – I certainly do.

At least half of the players in and around the England set-up are eligible to play for other countries – be that Caribbean nations, African nations, the Republic of Ireland or elsewhere.

I would be surprised if any of those players didn’t feel pride and loyalty to both England and those other nations.

Which brings us to Declan Rice and Jack Grealish, both of whom have Irish grandparents and both of whom played for the Republic – Jack at age group level and Declan also for the senior team in a couple of friendlies.

Tomorrow night, they may both feature for England against the Irish at Wembley.

Both players faced unenviable, high-profile decisions over which country to represent and both copped a fair bit of stick from some in Ireland when they chose England.

Many said that they opted for England because it makes them more marketable. That they did it out of greed.

But that is disrespectful to both nations. Are we seriously saying lads who grew up in England would only want to play for England because it would make them wealthier?

Or are we saying that players with Irish roots would only want to play for Ireland because they are not good enough to play for England?

There’s so much negativity over this issue of dual nationality – nearly always from people who don’t have mixed family backgrounds and don’t understand that it’s perfectly natural for those of us who do, to feel loyalty to more than one country.

And I don’t hear too much positivity about the way in which Declan and Jack have vindicated their decision by proving themselves with England.

Declan, who is a terrific lad and a fine holding midfield player, looks like being a regular England starter for ten years or more.

Jack is having to be more patient. And although I’m a staunch Birmingham City fan, I think the Aston Villa skipper is an inspiration to every kid in the city of Birmingham.

At Villa, Jack is THE man. He is their superstar. Everything goes through him.

With England, that will never be the case. He will have to adapt his game and play differently.

Perhaps that is why Gareth Southgate has been reluctant to give him too much game time – even though he was excellent in England’s friendly win over Wales last month.

I feel certain Jack will establish himself as an England regular. He is too good not to and he is a far better professional than some give him credit for.

He has waited a long time to be part of the England set-up and he has forced his way in with consistently brilliant performances for Villa.

So please don’t tell me that Jack, or any other England player, are only in it for the money.

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