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Can Paul Ince cut it at Notts County?

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Paul Fletcher | 22:06 UK time, Saturday, 11 December 2010

At Meadow Lane

Paul Ince seemed determined to keep his emotions in check after son Thomas scored his first goal in professional football on Saturday afternoon to put Notts County in the lead late in their match against MK Dons.

It was a brilliant left-footed strike from Thomas, an 18-year-old currently on loan from Liverpool, and it ensured that a game meandering towards a goalless draw was transformed into a victory that saw the Magpies record back-to-back wins for the first time this season.

His dad quipped afterwards that he did not want to talk about the goal because he was sure he would spend the rest of the evening hearing all about it. But there was much for the manager to be pleased about as he assessed a result that lifted the Magpies out of the League One relegation zone and up to 19th in the League One table.

"I do not want to get carried away," said Ince. "But the last 20 minutes of the first half was the best I have seen from a team in this league."

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His side looked solid across the back, delivered plenty of good quality crosses from wide areas and showed lots of determination and invention in attack. It was a performance that suggested Ince's team can comfortably fulfill his aim of climbing away from the lower reaches of the table.

Ince was appointed in late October following the dismissal of Craig Short after just 13 league games in charge of the club. Chairman Ray Trew, a man who made his money in recruitment, obviously decided he had made a mistake in employing the former County defender.

Trew, who bought the club last season at a time when they desperately needed a new owner, hired Ince after claiming he had been impressed by his "big ideas". In doing so he made the former England captain the club's sixth manager in 13 months. It is a point not missed on Ince.

"This club desperately needs stability," added Ince of the club where Sven-Goran Eriksson and Sol Campbell had brief roles last season.

"I said to the chairman there was no point bringing me here for four or five months. I want as long as it takes to get the club where I believe it belongs. Our aim is to stay in the division this year and push into the play-offs next season."

Ince is the only black manager in the top four divisions following the dismissal of Chris Hughton at Newcastle earlier this week and he believes the sacking of Hughton is a good example of the precarious nature of management.

"I am devastated for Chris because he is a lovely bloke and he has done a fantastic job at Newcastle," said Ince. "He got 102 points in the Championship and that takes some doing. His team went to Arsenal and won and then beat Sunderland 5-1 - what more has a bloke got to do?

"Managers do need time, especially younger ones, and that's what disappoints me about Chris. His team was not bottom of the table. If you are going to sack Chris then why not Avram Grant, Mick McCarthy or Mark Hughes because they are all below him in the table. Yet he gets sacked and that has gone beyond football.

"The problem now is that football is about owners - they make rash decisions and we are the ones who get it in the neck, which is disappointing."

Ince, who signed a three-and-a-half year deal, would be on new ground if he was still in charge of County when the next campaign kicks off. He has not been in charge of any of his three previous clubs for more than one full season.

His first role was at Macclesfield, where he took charge of the Silkmen in October 2006 with the club seven points adrift at the bottom of League Two. Ince could not have gone any lower in the Football League to start his managerial career and risked denting his reputation from the outset, but he managed to keep Town in the league, with the club securing survival on the final day of the season.

It was an achievement that impressed MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman, who hired Ince in the summer of 2007. The following season saw the fledgling club win the League Two title and defeat Grimsby In the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy.

"That was the year that established us as a football club - it helped to put us on the map," Winkelman told me. "I will always be grateful to Paul for the personality and charisma that he brought to our club.

"When he wants to go out and do something he has a great ability to not only go and try to achieve that himself but to take other people with him."

His success with MK Dons persuaded Blackburn to appoint him as manager in the summer of 2008. Ince, a former West Ham, Manchester United and Liverpool midfielder, had graduated from League Two to the Premier League, but he was sacked by Rovers after 177 days and 17 league games in charge. His team had won only three of those and lost their previous six matches, leaving the Lancashire club 19th in the table with chairman John Williams fearful that his club were losing touch with the sides above.

Despite the first failure of Ince's managerial career, Winkelman was more than happy to reemploy the manager that had brought so much success first time around.

Paul Ince has managed Blackburn in the Premier League.

Ince was sacked after 177 days in charge of Blackburn. Photo: Getty Images

"It was then that I learnt about the old adage that says you should never go back," added Winkelman. "I must confess I did not know what that meant at the time but it is about circumstances and timing - moments in people's lives."

Promotion was the aim for the 2009-10 season and the campaign started well, but the club slipped out of play-off contention as the season wore on. Ince then resigned with four games left when it became clear that he would have to contend with a smaller budget for the next season. The 43-year-old has pointed to the sale of the influential Jason Puncheon to Southampton immediately after a defeat by promotion rivals Charlton in January as a key moment in the season.

Perhaps that is when disillusion set in. I have been told that Ince's second spell at the club lacked the intense desire and determination to succeed that characterised his first period in Milton Keynes. The chemistry wasn't quite there.

I asked Winkelman whether he thought Ince would return to managing in the top flight. Perhaps he was talking about Ince's motivation levels when he said: "I think it is about how much Paul wants it. There is no doubt he has achieved everything he has set his mind to in his life, including managing in the Premier League after his first spell with us."

Ince's appointment at County was hardly met with widespread approval but listening to him after the victory over MK Dons there seems little doubt about his determination to succeed at his new club. He struck me as being both engaging, charming (yes, I was surprised too) and focused.

County's three previous fixtures had fallen victim to the weather and the frozen pitches had restricted the amount of time spent on the training ground. Instead, Ince worked his players in the gym, the swimming pool and the boxing ring and told me he thought the last two weeks had been good for team spirit.

Prior to the cold snap Ince and assistant Alex Rae had been focused on improving set- pieces at both ends of the pitch and defending a higher line, thus restricting the amount of space in which the opposition team have to play.

"When I came in I felt the lads had not been organised properly and needed guidance," said the Magpies boss. "They needed discipline and someone to show them where to go.

"They were also giving far too many goals away and we had to raise the self-belief. Football is about the brain and the idea of persuading them that they can improve, but doing that takes time."

Ince has already brought in the likes of son Thomas and Stephen Darby on loan from Liverpool and former Charlton defender Sam Sodje But he will continue to remodel his squad during the January transfer window. His first three games ended in defeat but County have won their last two and Ince has noticed an improvement. Even so, he is not talking about a quick fix at County and is insistent that he cannot be judged until he has had the opportunity to bring in eight or nine of his own players.

When that happens the man known as "the Guv'nor" is confident that he can bring stability to County and rebuild a managerial reputation that has had to negotiate a couple of bumps in the road.

"We have a long way to go," he said. "As long as I am given the time and the finances needed to bring my own players in then I am sure we will be successful."

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  • Comment number 1.

    "Ince has made the County Ground his home"

    I'd have thought commuting from Swindon would get tiresome quite quickly.

  • Comment number 2.

    "As long as I am given the time and the finances needed to bring my own players in then I am sure we will be successful."
    Much emphasis should be put on the finances part! He walks if he has none/ very little money to work with.
    His first spell with us was successful but hardly unexpected. We had a squad easily good enough for promotion from League 2. He's got a long way to go to make up for his brief spell in the prem.

  • Comment number 3.

    "The problem now is that football is about owners - they make rash decisions and we are the ones who get it in the neck, which is disappointing."

    Ince's name will always stand out in football and if he dose take this club to the next level than im sure he will jump ship when a better offer is on the table. it's shame to say that it works both ways, I hope Ince will stay and build something here as Nott's are in much need of stability.

    It was a Great game yesterday his son coming of the bench when the game looked to be over at 0-0 then scoring a great winning goal. Just over the river at forest they had the most famous father and son team in English football lets hope the same goes to the Ince's aswell.

  • Comment number 4.

    slappybag - that has been tweaked now. He'd be spending a long time on the motorway if that was his strategy.

    km89don - yep, a couple of people have told me that it would have been a big failure had Ince not won promotion from League Two with the squad he had.

    Darren Ferguson was a big success at Peterborough, winning back-to-back prommotions, but he is struggling at Preston. His Posh team was a relative big spender in the lower leagues but it is not proving so easy for Ferguson now he is working on a modest budget in the second tier. It will be fascinating to see whether Ince feels he is given enough backing to match his ambitions at County.

  • Comment number 5.

    It is difficult in any league to make it without a secure financial backing. If you're doing it on the cheap then you have to give the manager time, four seasons at least. Ince has worked under some great managers and Blackburn did not give him enough time; they had good performances and bad results on many occasions. I hope he is a success at County. He was great at MK Dons and how can it just be all the team that they won, that the manager had no influence is ridiculous.

    The game needs more successful Black managers like him and Hughton. They are both English too and there is every chance one day they could be considered for the England set up.

  • Comment number 6.

    I hope that Ince is NEVER considered for the England job. His record so far is very average and there are 40 other managers with better records than him.

    I don't see what all the fuss is about having more black managers - judge them on their success not their skin colour. No-one would care if their manager was black, white, Hispanic, Asian or green as long as they did well. Too much is made of the fact that there are no black many actually apply for the jobs in the first place?

    Recently you've had Des Lyttle, Keith Alexander, Paul Ince, Jean Tigana, Chris Hughton and John Barnes manage clubs in England. Apart from Hughton they've hardly set the game alight have they? It's not to do with the colour of their skin, just their ability

  • Comment number 7.

    I've been out of the city this season and not had chance to check on Countys progress in the flesh. I really hope the board give Paul a decent go in the hot seat, and in return he doesn't run for the hills if he doesn't quite get the finances he wants.

  • Comment number 8.

    Ince will never make it big as a's in his personality. His ego always surpassed his ability, even as a player, and his whining and playing the "race" card since turning to management says it all.

    He sees himself as some sort of victim while hoping people will call him "The Govenor". All that translates into a personality that has to be right all the time .......and that's the fast track to managing poorly, both upwards and downwards.

    He'll fail to ever get a top job and in his book he'll tell us that is was all down to discrimination.

  • Comment number 9.

    RhinoW (Post 6) makes a good point.

    I find it hard to believe that chairman and owners are institutionally racist and that they won't appoint managers due to the colour of their skin. The fact that Ince was given the job at Blackburn, a jump of 3 leagues from then MK Dons, proves that he was hardly held back. If anything, Ince had an unfair advantage due to his reputation and successful playing career. There were more experienced managers at that time in League One and the Championship than Ince but they were never considered for that Blackburn job as they weren't as big a name as Ince.

    On another note, I always loved Ince as a player. I actually think he was quite underrated by many. He bucked a recent trend by being a successful and popular English player abroad (at Inter). Plus my favourite memories of England was undoubtedly Euro 96, a team of which Ince was a massive part. I wish the current England side had a leader like him in it.

  • Comment number 10.

    Paul Ince is a good manager but did't make it when he had his chance at the top with Blackburn. Another manager who has donw well and worked his wat to the top has been Ian Holloway!

    Read this blog on the blackpool manager...

  • Comment number 11.

    The Blackburn job came too early in his career. Ince needs to stay at a club for a number of years and see it through, rather than jumping ship the next time there's a better offer.

    Still plenty of time for him to make it as a top flight boss...if he's good enough.

  • Comment number 12.

    The question of whether Ince's strong personality will help or hinder his career is very interesting.

    Everyone I spoke to about him told me that the Notts County boss could be very charismatic, that lower division players were slightly in awe of him and that when he walked into a room he had a real presence.

    MK Dons chairman Pete Winkelman talked at length about Ince's ability to set his mind to achieving something and then go out and do it, taking people along with him.

    But whether that would be enough at the top level is open to question. Player recruitment, tactics, psychology - there are so many important factors.

    And if Ince is to deliver on his pledge to take County to the level where he feels they ought to be then he will certainly have to stick around for longer than at his previous clubs. Why hasn't he lasted longer than one full season in any of his previous four spells as a manager?

  • Comment number 13.

    #12 Paul wrote: "Why hasn't he lasted longer than one full season in any of his previous four spells as a manager?"

    I think Ince shares many similar characteristics to his former United teammate Roy Keane..with perhaps a little more charm? They were both used to so much success in their careers at the top level that the slow progress of their sides in lower divisions becomes more frustrating. Their patience levels are wafer thin and this often leads them to voice disatisfaction far too quickly. Has Paul ever thought about coaching in Serie A does anybody know?

  • Comment number 14.

    Before I say this I should point out I don't see why Hughton lost his job - but it's alright for managers to go round saying that owners should have more loyalty, but how about managers showing a bit of loyalty.

    A team has to build consistency around players, playing style, training etc so everyone knows where they stand and so that any new players slot right into the system without having to learn a whole new way of playing. Look at Barcelona - they have kept the same philosophy for years passing down the tradition and it has paid off even with new managers. This is because the youth players play like the senior players and any young player can slot straight into the first team. Take Man United and you get the same by passing the baton from Busby to Fergie. So when you get a manager and they do well, owners must be pulling their hair out when they just up sticks to a better club meaning that they'll need a new manager with a new style which is ultimately going to cost them.

    Wenger had a good point once when he said that you often get a great season followed by a bad one. He was referring to players, but the same applies all round and after a good season with MK Dons it was going to be hard for Ince to repeat the same trick at Blackburn. Had the same start he made at Blackburn been replicated at MK Dons you imagine he still would have kept his job.

    As a result, with the greatest respect I don't think Ince can call for loyalty when he showed none himself and I'll be very surprised if I see him in this job in two years time. If he was still at MK Dons he might have built something special by now, but I'm afraid we'll now never find out.

  • Comment number 15.

    It would be very nice, however very unlikely, if FCFranshize and their former manager team will go down.

  • Comment number 16.

    "When I came in I felt the lads had not been organised properly and needed guidance," said the Magpies boss. "They needed discipline and someone to show them where to go.

    This shows Paul Ince's absolute lack of class. Slagging off the previous management shows exactly the type of man he is. Incidentally Notts County got better results under the previous manager than they have under Ince so far. I hope he fails as he is an odious little man.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    People should lay off Paul Ince. He just needs to settle at a club where both he and the club feel comfortable, it happens to a lot of managers early in there managerial career. I know he had it first time at MK Dons but you cant get on his back for taking a shot at the big league. Any other Manager would have done the same, look at Roberto Di Matteo for example.

    I think he has shown at Macc and MK Dons he has talent, he just needs to spend a few seasons implenting his plan. Hopefully he will make an impression at Notts and will be given another shot in the Premier League in a couple of years.


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