INCE: MY ENG­LAND SNUB

I took sum­mer off to get big move right

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - EX­CLU­SIVE by CHRIS DUNLAVY

DERBY County winger Tom Ince has in­sisted he has no re­grets about turn­ing down the chance to rep­re­sent Eng­land U21s in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships this sum­mer.

“I’m 23 now, not a kid of 19 or 20,” he said. “I know it’s time to show peo­ple that I de­serve the hype and the head­lines, and that’s why my next move (from Hull City to the Rams) was such a big one.

“I had to get it right and that’s why I wanted a full sum­mer to take stock. No dis­trac­tions.”

AR­RO­GANT. Treach­er­ous. Spoilt. Tom Ince has taken plenty of pel­ters since turn­ing his back on Eng­land.

“I’m only hu­man,” says Derby’s 23-year-old winger, whose de­ci­sion to spurn a berth at this sum­mer’s Euro­pean Un­der-21 cham­pi­onships in the Czech Re­pub­lic saw him buried un­der a hail of fire and brim­stone.

“And it isn’t nice to be called all those things. But I make no apolo­gies. My rea­sons were sound and peo­ple in football know that.”

So why risk the wrath of a na­tion? Why hand vit­riol mer­chant Piers Mor­gan the op­por­tu­nity to de­cry his ac­tions as ‘bor­der­ing on trea­son’?

Old­est

Os­ten­si­bly, Ince in­sists it was an act of ba­ton-pass­ing gen­eros­ity. “Peo­ple don’t re­alise that I was the old­est player in that squad by a good 18 months,” he ex­plains. “My age group was Jor­dan Hen­der­son, Danny Rose, Steven Caulker – the guys who went to Is­rael in 2013 with Stu­art Pearce.

“I played in the qual­i­fy­ing games be­cause I wanted to help. But I’d ex­pe­ri­enced the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships once and I just felt that we had a new young crop of play­ers com­ing through who de­served the op­por­tu­nity more than me.”

Yet if benev­o­lence was the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, prag­ma­tism was the mo­ti­va­tion. Ince needed to res­cue a ca­reer slid­ing off the rails.

Once courted by Liver­pool and In­ter Mi­lan, a se­ries of mis­judged moves had left many won­der­ing whether the young for­ward had ei­ther the tem­per­a­ment or tal­ent to suc­ceed at the high­est level.

Signed by Hull in a blaze of pub­lic­ity, he made only 13 ap­pear­ances last sea­son. A loan spell at Not­ting­ham For­est – “I didn’t see eye to eye with Stu­art Pearce” – yielded just six more.

“It was a re­ally frus­trat­ing time,” says Ince, who scored 33 goals in 113 games for Black­pool be­fore his switch to the KC in July 2014.

“I started the first few games for Hull, did well. Then we lost 2-1 away to Villa and, all of a sud­den, Steve Bruce went back to 3-5-2 with five play­ers at the back. He wanted to be a bit more solid and a bit more de­fen­sive in­stead of tak­ing the game to teams.

“That’s his pre­rog­a­tive and I don’t hold it against him. Man­agers get paid to pick the team and make tough de­ci­sions.

“But I want to play football. And as the months went on, it be­came ob­vi­ous that wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. I was train­ing Mon­day to Fri­day with no real hope of play­ing.

“When a team’s win­ning ev­ery week, you can’t have many ar­gu­ments. But we weren’t. We weren’t even scor­ing many goals. I never felt he wanted to give me a crack and even­tu­ally my pa­tience ran out.”

It wasn’t un­til he joined Derby in March that the real Tom Ince fi­nally stood up, bag­ging a re­mark­able 12 goals in 18 games whilst ev­ery­one else at the iPro fell apart.

En­joy­ment

“From day one I just played with a sense of en­joy­ment,” re­calls Ince.“I’m a player who, if I get the ball in the right po­si­tions, can cre­ate and score goals. So while I would never say I ex­pected to score 12 in 18, I wasn’t sur­prised ei­ther. It’s what I feel I could have done for Hull given the op­por­tu­nity.”

From that point on, Ince was de­ter­mined to es­cape his hell on the Hum­ber and vowed to let noth­ing – in­clud­ing Eng­land – dis­tract him from seal­ing a per­ma­nent switch to Pride Park. “I wouldn’t ever refuse to play for Eng­land just be­cause I didn’t fancy it,” in­sists Ince, who duly joined the Rams for £4.75m. “And I’d never feign in­jury or any­thing like that. I love play­ing for my coun­try and I’ve got am­bi­tions to do it again.

“But I’m 23 now, not a kid of 19 or 20. I know it’s time to show peo­ple that I de­serve the hype and the head­lines and that’s why my next move was such a big one. I had to get it right and that’s why I wanted a full sum­mer to take stock. No dis­trac­tions.”

Ince’s stance is typ­i­cal of a man who, while far more open and eru­dite than his fa­mously prickly fa­ther, has in­her­ited his un­yield­ing sin­gle-mind­ed­ness.

This is a lad who left the lights of Liver­pool to forge his name at Black­pool, who re­jected a move to Premier League Cardiff to stay close to his new-born son.

“I’ve seen the path he walked and I want to fol­low it,” he says. “And if that means mak­ing sac­ri­fices, or up­set­ting a few peo­ple, I’ll do it.

“We have a strong bond, both as fa­ther and son and as play­ers from dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions. He’ll al­ways be the first one to crit­i­cise my mis­takes or let me know when I’ve played well. He’s try­ing to show me the way to reach the top of the game and I’ll stop at noth­ing to do that.”

Ince snr has chal­lenged his son to net 25 goals this sea­son, and pub­licly com­pared him to Gareth Bale.

“Yeah,” he says ex­as­per­at­edly. “I keep telling him to keep his mouth shut but it’s not work­ing at the minute – he’s too busy try­ing to get him­self on TV!”

Based on last sea­son, it is not an un­re­al­is­tic tar­get. Yet while Ince was ablaze, his team-mates were drop­ping like damp squibs as Derby, top in March, tum­bled sham­bol­i­cally out of the play-off po­si­tions.

Were the play­ers dis­tracted by New­cas­tle’s drawn-out pur­suit of Steve McClaren, now re­placed in the IPro hot­seat by for­mer Real Madrid as­sis­tant Paul Cle­ment?

“It didn’t help,” ad­mits Ince. “But it’s no ex­cuse. All of the lads knew the aim. What we did wrong was an ac­cu­mu­la­tion of lit­tle things – loss of fo­cus, fail­ing to fin­ish games off, mak­ing silly er­rors.

Pos­i­tiv­ity

“That cost us a hell of a lot but it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that we were top of the ta­ble with 13 games to go. That says we did a lot of things right.

“Now Ge­orge Thorne has had a full pre-sea­son. Chrissy Martin is back fit.We’ve got a new man­ager, new ideas, a lot of pos­i­tiv­ity around the place. If we show the same hunger that we did for the ma­jor­ity of last sea­son, we’ll be up there.”

And as for Ince, he hopes that his tem­po­rary de­fec­tion from the in­ter­na­tional fold will one day be over­looked.

“If you’re per­form­ing week af­ter week for your club, if you’re scor­ing goals and cre­at­ing chances, your coun­try will al­ways take no­tice,” he says. “And I be­lieve firmly that will hap­pen. Right now, though, I just want a fair crack.”

DIS­AP­POINT­MENT: Tom Ince and Eng­land lost all three games in Is­rael in 2013

STAR: Tom Ince’s dad Paul has com­pared him to Gareth Bale

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