Steve Bruce was widely regarded as one of the best central defenders of his generation. He was a stalwart at the back for Manchester United between 1987 and 1996, during which time he won three Premier League titles. Despite achieving huge success at club level, he was never capped by England. But why?
England never capped Steve Bruce for the simple reason that managers preferred to select other centre-backs instead. Sir Bobby Robson and Graham Taylor coached the Three Lions at the height of Bruce’s career, but neither of them gave him a cap.
The likes of Des Walker, Mark Wright, Martin Keown, Terry Butcher and Tony Adams kept Bruce out of the England team.
Sir Bobby Robson apologised to Steve Bruce
In 2020, Steve Bruce’s former Manchester United teammate Gary Pallister appeared on the One Last Match podcast. He told a story about the time that United played Benfica in 1992.
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Sir Bobby Robson managed Benfica’s rivals Sporting Lisbon at the time. During a visit to the United hotel, Sir Bobby admitted he should have picked Bruce for England.
“The gaffer [Sir Alex Ferguson] introduced Sir Bobby,” Pallister recalled. “He said, ‘Look, lads, I just want to have a moment of your time. I just want to say sorry to Steve Bruce because I really should have given him an England cap. You were so well worth an England cap – I just want to apologise for not giving you one.'”
Terry Venables wanted Steve Bruce to play for England
If Terry Venables had his way, Steve Bruce would have received his first England cap in a 1994 friendly against Nigeria. Bruce revealed at a press conference in 2014 that Venables wanted him to play in the match, but he turned the opportunity down.
“I had the chance,” Bruce said. “Terry Venables rang me. I think we were playing Nigeria at Wembley and they must have been struggling. He rang me and said, ‘I want to give you a cap.’ I declined.”
Bruce was almost 34 years old at the time. He said Venables’ assistant Bryan Robson was “desperate” for him to get a Three Lions appearance, but he thought the call-up would have felt like a “sympathy cap”.
England won the match 1-0 thanks to a goal from David Platt. Neil Ruddock and Steve Howey played in Bruce’s centre-back position that day.
Did Steve Bruce play for Ireland?
Steve Bruce didn’t play for the Republic of Ireland, but he did qualify to represent the country due to his mother being born there.
Jack Charlton wanted to call Bruce up to play for Ireland at the 1994 World Cup in America. Shortly before the tournament, he rang the centre-back and attempted to convince him to accept a call-up.
“Typical Jack,” Bruce joked to Sky Sports. “[He] rang me and says, ‘I’ve just been on a train and the driver tells me your mother’s from Ireland.’ I said, ‘Yes, Jack.’ He says, ‘Why didn’t you tell me before?! Look, I’d love to welcome you. We’ve got the World Cup in USA.'”
In those days, clubs were only allowed to select three foreign players in Champions League squads. Bruce would have been classed as a ‘foreign’ player in the Manchester United squad if he agreed to represent Ireland. For that reason, Sir Alex Ferguson told him to reject the call-up.
To sum up, Bruce could have played for England or Ireland towards the end of his career in 1994. He declined both opportunities, which means his only senior international appearance came in 1987 when he played in the England B team’s 2-0 friendly win against Malta.