Paul Ince: a failed Italian Job to Liverpool captain

Lee Spencer

Say ‘Paul Ince’ to a West Ham supporter and they are likely to go red in the face and begin to start foaming at the mouth. For West Ham fans, time is not a healer and even now the thought of him appearing in a Manchester United shirt while still a West Ham player is very raw.

But, does Paul Ince deserve to be remembered more fondly for his playing days?

Having been brought up through the West Ham academy, he broke through in 1986. Making his debut in the 4-0 defeat to Newcastle in November that year.

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For the next three years Ince was a Hammer favourite, his combative style in the centre of the park proving a hit for the West Ham supporters; he was one of their own. The 1987/88 season, Ince played a major part in ensuring the club avoided relegation, finishing 16th. However, the following season they could not avoid dropping down a division. Ince played in 48 matches that season across all competitions, scoring eight goals. He had been so influential that season, winning the Hammer of the Year. Unfortunately it was not enough.

That led to one fateful summer, when Ince was photographed wearing a Manchester United shirt. The issue being that he was still very much a West Ham player at this point. The newspapers running the story Paul Ince was leaving before the deal was announced officially. You can imagine the anger from the West Ham faithful. Their player, who had come through the ranks, not only leaving but wearing another teams shirt while still at the club. West Ham fans would never forget.

Ince did eventually transfer to Manchester United for 1 million pounds,  but the damage, as far as the Hammers supporters was concerned was already done.  The dislike continued throughout his playing career.

For United,  Ince had become a real force. In his six seasons he had played in 204 matches scoring 24 goals. His displays in the centre of midfield for United drove the team onwards as they secured the FA Cup in 1990. A 1-0 win in the replay against Crystal Palace. This was after the first match ended 3-3 .

The following season United reached the final of the Cup Winners Cup. Their opponents that day being Barcelona. Paul Ince lined up in central midfield with Bryan Robson. With Ince holding the midfield, it allowed Robson to push on more during the game. Two goals from Mark Hughes and United ran out 2-1 winners.

Then came 1993, and Manchester United’s first title in 26 years. Ince was a major part of that successful United squad. He had become a cornerstone of the United team. His determination pushed the team on and his willingness to battle for the club proved invaluable. He was, like many of the United team, a fierce competitor. Ince also was selected in the team of the year that season voted for by the PFA. Ince appeared in 41 league matches scoring six times.

The following season United won the double. Winning the Premier League by eight points and beating Chelsea in the FA Cup 4-0. Ince played 55 games that season scoring nine goals over all competitions. That season Ince had competition from another hard tackling midfielder;Roy Keane. The Irishman had signed that season playing alongside Ince. The pair forged a terrifying partnership. Both players so strong in the tackle and with egos to match. The two players never saw eye to eye, and almost bordered on hatred, but on the pitch they were feared by all.

However, 1995 ended disappointing for Ince as United were pipped at the post by Blackburn Rovers after their draw against West Ham. Ince stepping back in the cauldron of Upton Park. Screams of Judas ringing in Ince’s ears throughout the match.

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Then in June, and to the amazement of the Manchester United fans, Paul Ince joined Inter Milan for seven million pounds. A strange decision considering he was in his prime. Ince had always had a rocky relationship with Alex Ferguson who had labeled him ‘bottler’ or ‘big time Charlie’ in the past. The fans were less than impressed when he was replaced by youngster Nicky Butt. Butt was a number of kids brought into the team by Ferguson that summer; I think we all know how what happened after that.

For Ince however, a new adventure . He spent two years in Italy and even though Inter didn’t exceed expectations, Ince had played well, helping them finish 3rd in his final season and getting to the UEFA Cup Final.

Italy and Inter

Inter offered Ince a two year contract extension but he decided to come back to England. Liverpool buying the player for four million pounds. The move failed to impress the Manchester United faithful. Not many players have been so brave or some may say stupid enough to make the move, but Ince didn’t care. His confidence and ego wouldn’t allow it. Ince went on to captain both clubs, the only man to do so in 50 years. The decision he made to join Liverpool meant he would never go down as a Manchester United legend. It’s unfair on a player who had given so much to a United team.

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Ince played two seasons at Anfield but failed to bring home a trophy. Liverpool were going through a transition at the time and had gained the nickname the Spice Boys, mainly due to some of their off the field antics. On a personal level, Ince had played well for the club, Gerard Houllier however deciding Ince’s Liverpool career was over.

This was the beginning of the end for Ince’s career at top level; as the Englishman enjoyed stints at Middlesbrough, all the way down to Macclesfield town in 2007. He played his last ever game in May that year, coming on as a substitute against Notts County.

But, let’s not forget Ince had a decent England career, 53 appearances and two goals; helping the team to the semi-final of Euro 1996. Who also remembers his heroic display against Italy in Rome? Bandaged, blooded, and a perfect defensive midfield display. Securing a scoreless draw to qualify for the World Cup in 1998; why is it people only remember Terry Butcher?

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Paul Ince was a truly great central midfielder who had drive and passion in abundance. Yes he had a cocky attitude and made some pretty awful decisions along the way. West Ham and Manchester United fans can vouch for that.

But for the teams he played for, he always gave 110 percent. He was a battler, a tough tackler and could even pass a ball.

He will always be Judas to some fans and that won’t ever change. But what a player he was to have in your team. Even the most hardened of fans might find it hard to deny that.



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