Northern Ireland bid to snatch Steve Bruce’s son back from Republic
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce is the key figure in Northern Ireland’s latest player tug-of-war with the Republic of Ireland.
This time the tables have been turned with Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington attempting to land a Republic player after a series of defections in the opposite direction.
The player in question is Bruce’s son Alex, previously capped at under-21 and senior level by the Republic of Ireland, but only in friendlies, leaving his international allegiance still up for grabs.
If 26-year-old Alex can be persuaded to switch his allegiance he will then be on the brink of becoming the first player in 60 years to play at full international level for Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Five years ago Alex rejected a call-up to the Northern Ireland under-21 squad, deciding instead that he wanted to play for the Republic of Ireland.
He has since won two senior caps, but the door remains open for him to declare for Northern Ireland as neither his 2007 appearance against Equador nor in Poland in 2008 were in competitive matches.
His situation is similar to that of Londonderry-born Shane Ferguson, who has been approached by the Republic. He can still switch despite playing for Northern Ireland against Italy two years ago as that was a friendly.
Having only been capped once under Giovanni Trapattoni — almost three years ago — it is clear that Bruce’s international career has stalled and Worthington is offering him a kick-start.
Worthington’s assistant Glynn Snodin has a foot in both camps. He is also Simon Grayson’s number two at Leeds United — where Bruce has been playing for the last year — and he has already done some ground work.
“I have spoken to both Alex and Nigel and we’d like to have him playing for Northern Ireland,” said Snodin.
“The plan is for Nigel, Alex and his dad to talk sometime this week to see if he will come.
“Alex want to discuss things with his dad because they are very close. I told him that we understand that. His family has to come first, but I think Alex would like to play for Northern Ireland and he’d like to win international caps.
“I have also explained that we’ve had players go and play for the Republic of Ireland after being in our senior squad.
“Once Nigel speaks to Steve things could happen quickly.
“It would be good to have a player like Alex to strengthen our squad and hopefully he’ll come.”
Worthington previously successfully persuaded Belfast-born pair Tony Kane and Michael O’Connor back into the Northern Ireland fold after they’d been selected by the Republic.
In fact, Kane played in a number of underage internationals with the FAI before making his under-21 debut for Northern Ireland.
Kane has since returned to the Irish League without ever earning a single cap, while O’Connor has fallen out of favour after winning 10 caps.