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Paul Ince: The Rise and Fall of the Guv’nor

Paul Ince left Manchester United in June 1995, signing for Italian giants, Inter Milan. The transfer sparked uproar amongst United supporters, who were further upset by the subsequent sales of Ince’s team-mates, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis that same Summer.

Unlike the ageing Hughes, who had been replaced in the first team by Andy Cole, Ince much like Kanchelskis was a pivotal part of the team and was expected to be for many years to come. Ince had fallen out with United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson. That was the reason his time at United was at an end.

In actual fact, Ince and Ferguson’s relationship had been tempestuous for some time. Ferguson regarded Ince as a “big time Charlie.” Ince, the self-styled Guv’nor played up to this persona 24/7 and the act had worn thin with the United manager, who happily accepted a £7 million offer from Inter, and replaced Ince with Class of ’92 graduate, 20-year-old Nicky Butt.

Before the relationship turned sour, Ince was a focal part of a hugely successful team. He signed for United in September 1989 from Second Division side, West Ham United. His signing, like his departure also sparked controversy. Ince, on the advice of his agent, took a photograph in a United shirt prior to the deal being announced, to save him coming back home from his summer holiday for a picture when the deal was concluded. However, the Daily Express released the photograph prematurely, which caused Ince to become a pariah with West Ham fans through no fault of his own.

Ince’s United debut occurred on the 16th September 1989 In a 5-1 victory over Millwall. Ince found himself playing in the centre of United’s midfield, predominantly with Captain, Bryan Robson and Neil Webb.

Over time, Ince became United’s premier midfielder, as Webb suffered with injuries and Robson’s career entered its final years.

In his first season at the club, Ince won the 1990 FA Cup. During the final and its replay, Ince played at right back in place of Viv Anderson, instead of his favoured central midfield role. Despite the change of position, Ince was named man of the match in the Cup-winning replay. The Guv’nor had arrived.

The silverware kept on rolling in. Ince added a Cup Winners Cup winners medal to his collection the following season and United’s first ever League Cup in 1991-92.

Ince’s Michael Carrick-esque precision passes, combative tackling and ferocious shots made him United’s key midfielder throughout the early 1990’s.

However, it was during this season that the seeds of discontent were first sown in the Ferguson/Ince relationship. Ferguson not one to tolerate egos if he felt it was to the detriment of the team found the young and charismatic Ince was testing his patience with increasing regularity. Ince has since revealed in interviews that Ferguson screamed at him following their 3-0 victory over Norwich City on 7th September 1991, saying that he was “not f**king Maradona!” and that he should just “get the ball and pass it to the best players.”

Ferguson was concerned Ince was a show-pony, the “big time Charlie.” Despite Ferguson’s assertions, Ince was still one of his most pivotal players. In fact, by 1992-93, Ferguson had crafted the perfect team around him, with Hughes and Cantona up front, Bruce and Pallister behind and Giggs and Kanchelskis either side. This was a team which ended United’s long wait for a League title, by winning the inaugural Premier League Championship. Ince was once again an integral part of the revered United side which won the Double in 1993/94. He notched up nine goals in 56 appearances.

Only Gary Pallister played more games for United in Ince’s final season for the club in 1994-95 and Ince was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year despite United ending the season trophy-less. However, in spite of this, Ince’s ssix-yeartenure at the club was at an end. Ferguson saw Butt, as an Ince/Robson style combative midfielder who could be a worthy successor and at 20 years old, was also a much younger alternative to the experienced Ince and possessed none of the prima donna traits that “The Guv’nor” had become renowned for. Butt had appeared over 30 times for the first team in 1994/95 and had little trouble becoming a bona fide member of the first team in 1995-96; a position he would retain throughout the remainder of the decade.

For Ince, his immediate future was in Italy wherein he spent two years with Italian giants, Inter. Despite his short tenure with the Italian side, Ince played a pivotal role in their run to the 1996-97 UEFA Cup Final and missed only 12 of Inter’s League matches during his two season spell at the club.

However, he turned down the opportunity to remain in Italy due to his desire for his son, Tom to be schooled in England and left in the summer of 1997.

Ince did not particularly endear himself to United supporters when he returned to England, with United’s arch rivals, Liverpool. His approval rating amongst the Old Trafford faithful soured even more when Ince scored a dramatic late leveller in a 2-2 draw at Anfield in which he vigorously celebrated in front of the Kop. United would have the last laugh though as they secured the Treble that season whilst Liverpool ended the season empty-handed.

Ince’s spell at Liverpool was relatively short-lived and he left the club at the end of the 1998-99 season.

From there, Ince spent three seasons at former United team-mate Robson’s Middlesbrough, wherein he was named Captain, before ending his top-line Football career with Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Ince patched up his relationship with Ferguson, who gave him advice and support when he began a coaching career with Swindon Town in August 2006 and during his subsequent managerial exploits at Macclesfield Town, MK Dons, Blackburn Rovers, Notts County and Blackpool.  Ince had decidedly mixed success as a coach. The highlight of his managerial career was undoubtedly the 2006/07 season with MK Dons wherein he won the League Two Championship and Football League Trophy for a memorable Double. Ince will always be most well renowned as a player, however.

Ince’s United legacy, despite its controversies and his issues with Ferguson is best remembered for his dynamic personality and his forceful box to box midfield play, perfectly linking defence with attack and spearheading United’s early 1990’s dominance. Whether Ferguson liked the nickname or not, Ince will forever be known as the Guv’nor.

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