Blackpool boss Paul Ince has spent his life proving a point
FEW figures in football inspire vitriol and mockery like Paul Ince. Never forgiven for styling himself ‘The Guv’nor’, the 45-year-old was branded a ‘Big Time Charlie’ by Sir Alex Ferguson and accused of faking injury by Gerrard Houllier. Damned for his treachery by fans of West Ham, Ince has also been forced to swallow accusations of arrogance and tactical naivety in his management career.
That Ince can be belligerent and aggressive is beyond doubt. For many managers, his personality was just too strong.
“With Paul, you couldn’t have a honeymoon all the time,” admitted Ferguson, who flogged Ince to Inter in 1995 at the peak of his powers.“He was such a volatile character, but at the same time he never let us down.”
Houllier resented Ince’s influence in the Liverpool dressing room, drumming him out in the belief that it would allow youngsters like Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen to blossom.
Yet the very qualities that caused friction with his employers were perhaps the reason Ince became one of England’s finest midfielders. A cousin of Born: Ilford, Redridge, 1967 (Age 45) Playing career: The snarling midfielder was at the top level for the majority of his illustrious career.
A boyhood West Ham supporter, he made his debut for the Hammers on 30 November 1986, then moved to Manchester United in 1989 for £1m. Ince won ten trophies in his six-year stay and became a r egular in the England side.
Moved to Inter in 1995 under current England boss Roy Hodgson and was highly successful, becoming a cult hero and is still r evered at the San Siro.
He then moved to Liverpool for £4m in 1997 and joined Middlesbrough in 1999, winning player of the year in his first season.
Joined Wolves on a free transfer in boxer Nigel Benn, Ince grew up in a cramped Dagenham council flat just outside London, looked after by an aunt after his father and mother walked out.
By 13 he was in a gang and soon drinking Tennent’s Super and “going down the Kings nightclub for a fight”.
His life was violent and fractured, but he knew how to scrap – a quality recognised by West Ham boss John Lyall.
Lyall signed Ince at 14 and helped him through his troubled teens, once spending an hour with police persuading them not to press charges after Ince took part in a fight that left a man with broken ribs.
It was to prove the turning 2002 before retiring in 2006. Managerial career: Straight after his stint at Molineux, Ince became a player-coach alongside Dennis Wise at Swindon. After a mutual termination, Ince became player-manager of Macclesfield and guided the Silkmen to Football League safety before he began his first stint as full MK Dons boss in 2007. Won promotion from League Two and the Football League Trophy to earn a top-flight job at Blackburn. After winning just three games in 17, Ince was sacked on 16 December 2008.
Another spell at MK Dons followed, before leaving for Notts County. On April 3 2011 he left the club by mutual consent after losing a club r ecord nine games in a row, before joining Blackpool in February this year. point. Ince left the gangs behind and in 1989 he joined Manchester United for £1m, controversially being photographed in a United shirt long before the transfer was completed.
There, he helped Ferguson establish his empire, winning two titles, two FA cups and the Cup Winners’ Cup. He also won the first of 52 England caps, forging a fine midfield partnership with close friend Gazza, and became the first black Briton to captain his country.
However, it was at Inter where he truly felt at home, making 54 appearances in two years in Italy and becoming a huge fans’ favourite.
“Inter made me grow up, have responsibilities,” he said. “I was still a bit of a boy at United. I proved to myself, to United and to the English people that a player like me, not the most gifted technically, could go out to Italy and be a success through sheer hard work and determination.”
To this day, Inter president Massimo Moratti remains a friend, while Ince himself dreams of one day coaching Inter.
That, though, must wait. Having saved Macclesfield from relegation in 2007 and then led MK Dons to promotion from League Two, Ince was hailed one of Britain’s brightest young managers.
However, a disastrous 17game reign at Premiership Blackburn and thankless spells back at MK Dons and Notts County mean Ince, now at Black- pool, must once again repair a battered reputation.
Yet those who know him best say he is more than capable – and far removed from the stereotypes that dog him.
“You are scared not to give 100 per cent under him,” said Jon Harley, who played for Ince at Notts County. “But he’s not a shouter and a screamer. He’s far more calm and collected.
“People might be surprised by that. He won’t come in at halftime and start shouting and swearing. I’m not saying he can’t blister the walls... he can. But most of the time what he has to say is very measured, quiet and thoughtful.”
Carl Regan, part of Ince’s Macclesfield squad, says there is nothing big-time about his former manager.
“We all knew who he was when he came in at Macclesfield,” said Regan. “But we shouldn’t have been worried because he was unbelievable. He came in and treated us like equals, like Premier League players almost. It inspired a lot of respect from all of the players and we wanted to lay our lives on the line for him.”
And while he is hardly the most esteemed of referees, MK Dons chairman Pete Winkleman has nothing but kind words for his friend.
“Paul is a leader, he is dynamic, a fighter and a fantastic character,” he said. “I’ve got great memories of him here and I’m delighted to see him back.”
ITALIAN JOB: Blackpool boss Paul Ince dreams of managing Inter Milan one day. Inset: lifting the Premier League trophy in 1994 at Manchester United