When Jack Charlton found out that Steve Bruce was eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland, he didn’t hesitate to pick up the phone.
Steve Bruce, in the prime of his career at Manchester United at the time, answered the phone when it was looking like he was never going to receive an England call-up.
Charlton, in preparation for USA ’94, called up Bruce and wanted to gauge his interest in joining his Ireland squad.
Bruce, who was eligible to play for Ireland due to his mother’s place of birth, brought Charlton’s offer to his manager at United, Alex Ferguson.
Ferguson wasn’t having it because, at the time, there were restrictions on the number of foreign players that English clubs could have in their ranks for Uefa competitions and Irish players qualified as foreign.
Speaking on Goals on Sunday in 2016, Bruce explained: “I probably hoped for about 15 years that I’d get a call from England but that didn’t happen apart from when I was 36, when Bobby Robson and Terry Venables rang me – I think they were short of players really – and said there was a gap for a friendly and Terry wanted to cap me. If they’d called me when I was 26, I would have loved it.
“But I had the chance to go to Ireland. Big Jack Charlton rang me before USA ’94 and typical Jack said ‘I’ve just been on a train and the driver tells me your mother is from Ireland.’
“I said ‘Yes Jack.’ And he said ‘Why didn’t you tell me before? I’d love to work with you. We’ve got the World Cup coming up in the USA.’
“But at the time, if you were Irish then you were foreign and by that assimilated rule, I would have been a foreign player playing for Man United.
“So Sir Alex put the boot into that one and said ‘you’re not going to be foreign.’ That was the end of it and I had a few opportunities but it didn’t quite happen.”