Paul Ince deserves sympathy not our derision

16 December 2008 09:25
And here are some others who have struggled even to leave the physio's room: David Dunn and Steven Reid. And here is another whose mind already appears to have left Ewood Park: Roque Santa Cruz. And here is another who has still to learn the offside rule: Benni McCarthy. Ince deserves sympathy not opprobrium. No one can call him a bad manager, just a promising young coach who joined a decent club who ran out of money, top players and, on Tuesday, patience.

Headlines will scream that Ince's demise was inevitable, merrily highlighting an 11-game run without a victory, jabbing a finger at Blackburn's perilous position in the Premier League, and heaping all the blame on Ince. A complex but likeable man who endured a grim childhood and has fought challenges all his life, Ince has enough chips on his shoulders already without having all Rovers woes dumped on him.

In a sport that loves a victim, that sips merrily on schadenfreude at the sight of a famous name struggling, Ince will be pilloried today. Just as Roy Keane was two weeks ago, Ince will hear the crowing from afar and doubtless the whispering from within.

Too tactically naive (Stephen Warnock deployed everywhere). Too one-dimensional in training. Too little authority. Too quixotic in his coaching appointments (Nigel Winterburn, the part-time defensive expert, was more visible on the BBC). Too rash in his few recruits (Carlos Villanueva).

These games of spin can always be played. If Arsene Wenger departed from Arsenal today, legitimate comments could be made about internal tensions (William Gallas does not like Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott does not like Gallas, Emmanuel Adebayor does not like Nicklas Bendtner and Emmanuel Eboue is a touch strange) yet the reality is that Wenger is one of the greatest managers at work today and only an idiot of Baldrick's league would call for his dismissal.

Dressing rooms like the Emirates, like Ewood's, have always heaved with issues. That's football. AC Milan and Manchester United have lifted European Cups with as distinguished managers as Arrigo Sacchi and Sir Alex Ferguson struggling to get prominent players to communicate. A divided dressing-room jibe cannot be tossed at Ince with any real conviction.

Awkward as it may be for those revelling in trashing Ince's reputation, the truth is that he began the season by losing two of his leading lights, Friedel and Bentley, one who stopped goals and the other who created them, but managed to mastermind a victory over Everton on the opening day. Ince's fall to earth needs placing in perspective. He cannot be thrown on the managerial refuse-tip. Ince showed enough promise at Macclesfield Town and MK Dons to deserve a chance in the big league. He must come back.

It is too simplistic to say it was all too soon for Ince. The former England captain had done his time in the lower ranks, serving an apprenticeship, acquiring far more experience of management than Pep Guardiola, the coach lauded as the most talented newcomer around.

As he earned his badges and stripes, Guardiola rightly deserved praise for his fine work with Barcelona's young guns and soon was placed in charge of the first XI. If there is one team out there in Euroville capable of stopping the four horsemen of the Premier League's apocalypse-bringers it is Guardiola's Barcelona. And why? Not because of Guardiola, able though he undoubtedly is, but because of the quality of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and, increasingly, Thierry Henry. Ince, who patrolled the same part of the midfield as Guardiola, was never going to be blessed with such resources, but the gradual disappearance of his dressing-room stars resembled Midsomer Murders. Consider this: the main contenders to succeed Ince, Graeme Souness (with Tugay in tow) and Sam Allardyce, may or may not turn Blackburn's fortunes around, but where does this leave England? Wise counsel across the game calls for the nurturing of home-grown successors to Fabio Capello. Gareth Southgate may prove the answer simply because he is the last man standing, because he has a loyal, sensible chairman in Steve Gibson. Or Stuart Pearce, who left the rat-race and rebuilt his reputation with England's Under-21s.

Neither Allardyce nor Souness will ever be employed by the FA for reasons ranging from public perception to birthplace. Ince could still be. If there is sympathy for Blackburn's chairman, John Williams, a principled man juggling with the financial implications of relegation, then football itself today stands condemned at Ince's defenestration.

Source: Telegraph