In August 1988, an eventful season for Ince began. In a struggling West Ham side, he shot to national recognition with two stunning goals in a shock 4-1 win over defending champions Liverpool in the League Cup, and continued to score goals as the Hammers reached the semi-finals while having real trouble finding any form in the League. West Ham lost to Luton Town in the semi-finals and, despite frequent displays of individual brilliance from Ince, were relegated at the end of the season, a disappointment which cost manager John Lyall his job after 15 years at the helm.
In a recent article in Four Four Two magazine, when answering questions about his career from readers, he got his chance to explain the story:
"I spoke to Alex Ferguson and the deal was close to being done. I then went on holiday, and my agent at the time, Ambrose Mendy, said it wasn't worth me coming back to do a picture in a United shirt when the deal was completed, so I should do one before I left, and it would be released when the deal was announced. Lawrence Luster of the Daily Star took the picture and put in the library. Soon after, their sister paper, the Daily Express, were looking for a picture of me playing for West Ham, and found the one of me in the United shirt in the pile. They published it and all hell broke loose.
"I came back from holiday to discover West Ham fans were going mad. It wasn't really my fault. I was only a kid, I did what my agent told me to do, then took all the crap for it."
Ince eventually made his Manchester United debut in a 5-1 win over Millwall and (despite wearing the No.2 shirt - traditionally reserved for right-backs) became a strong presence in the midfield alongside long serving captain Bryan Robson and fellow new midfielder Neil Webb. United won the FA Cup in his first season, defeating Crystal Palace 1-0 in a replay at Wembley after initially drawing 3-3.
Over the next four seasons, Robson's United career gradually wound down until he finally left to manage Middlesbrough in 1994, Meanwhile, Ince became United's key midfielder, with snapping tackles, raking passes and some tremendously hit shots, though he was not too prolific a goalscorer. One of his best games came in January 1994, when he scored twice in a 2-2 away draw with former club West Ham in the Premier League.
Brian McClair was Ince's central midfielder partner for the second half of the 1992-93 season after the former switched from striker to midfielder on the arrival of Eric Cantona, and in 1993-94 Ince was played alongside new midfield signing Roy Keane.
He won his second winners' medal when United defeated Barcelona in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in Rotterdam in 1991 and received his third another year later when United beat Nottingham Forest in the 1992 League Cup final.
Ince made his debut for the full England team in September of that year in a friendly match against Spain in Santander. England lost 1-0 but Ince proved a success. He was duly awarded his second cap a month later in a disappointing 1-1 draw with Norway in a qualifying match for the 1994 World Cup.
At the same time, Manchester United were competing in the inaugural Premiership season with Ince and his best friend at the time, Ryan Giggs at the fore and part of a now legendary team that included Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel, Andrei Kanchelskis, Steve Bruce and Denis Irwin. Seeking a first League title for 26 years, United won it and Ince completed his domestic medal set just three years after joining the club. This success at club level was marred, however, by failure at international level, as Ince was dropped by manager Graham Taylor for two of five World Cup qualifiers, the second of which was a crucial 2-0 defeat in Norway which made England's hopes of reaching the finals slim.
However, Ince made history during England's summer tour of the U.S. when, in a match against the host nation, he became England's first black captain in the absence of David Platt and Tony Adams. England lost 2-0.
As the following domestic season got under way, Ince won his tenth England cap in a 3-0 win over Poland which kept alive their World Cup qualification hopes, though required a victory over the Netherlands in Rotterdam a month later. In a controversial match, Holland beat England 2-0 and qualification hopes had gone. Ince scored twice - his first and only international goals - as the qualifying campaign ended with a 7-1 thumping of San Marino in Bologna but the margin of victory wasn't enough.
Manchester United continued to dominate the domestic game and Ince was the midfield general in the side which won the "double" of Premiership and FA Cup in 1994. A year later and Ince suffered more chants of JUDAS when he and Manchester United went to West Ham on the last day of the season, needing a win to reclaim their Premiership crown. Sadly for them, they could only draw the game and Blackburn Rovers took the title. It went from bad to worse as Ince featured then in the United team which also lost the FA Cup final to Everton.
In the summer of 1995, Ferguson sold him to Inter Milan for £7.5 million - at the time it was one of the costliest transfer fees involving an English player. Ferguson had long sustained a tempestuous relationship with Ince, labelling him a "bottler" and a "fucking big-time charlie", which many fans saw as the prime reason for Ince being sold, rather than on footballing or economic grounds. Ince's sale caused massive unrest among United supporters, and the discontent deepened when United turned to 20-year-old Nicky Butt as his successor rather than buying a more experienced player. A similar uproar followed the subsequent sale of Ince's team mates Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis, although the younger players who filled their places in the team contributed greatly to United's "double double" success in the 1995-96 season as well as the triumphs of subsequent seasons.
While at United, Ince had collected two Premier League title medals as well as two FA Cup winner's medals and one winner's medal each in the European Cup Winners' Cup and Football League Cup. He had also collected runners-up medal's in the League Cup twice and the FA Cup once.
While Manchester United adjusted to life without Ince, he made a shaky start to his career in Milan, but a somewhat sceptical Inter crowd were soon won over by Ince's complete commitment to the Inter cause and as such he soon became one of their favourite players.
Within four months of Ince signing for Inter, rumours were circulating that he was about to make a swift comeback to English football and sign for Arsenal, who were looking to replace the out-of-favour John Jensen. But Arsenal had not finalised an offer by the end of the one-week November transfer window, and the transfer never happened.
In the 1995/1996 season Inter failed to challenge for a 14th scudetto, finishing seventh in the Serie A. Ince, though, had a great first season, playing in all but four of Inter's league matches. The next year, Ince had another successful season with the nerazzurri, scoring 6 times in 24 matches in the championship - in which Inter finished third - and also playing his part in Inter's run through to the UEFA Cup Final. Ince scored in the third round second-leg match away to Boavista as Inter swept all before them before meeting Schalke in the Final. Ince didn't play in the away first-leg as Inter lost 1-0 but he returned to the line-up for the home match which the Italians won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Ivan Zamorano. Penalties were again a heart breaker for Ince though, as Schalke won 4-1 in the resulting penalty shootout.
Despite being offered a new, improved contract by club president Massimo Moratti, Ince decided that after two years away it was time to move home and he left Inter.
When Euro 96 got under way, Ince was in the England team as the midfield ball winner and got the label of "Gazza's minder" whose job was to create room for Paul Gascoigne to exploit with his natural ball skills. Though the first group game ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw at Wembley against Switzerland, England went on to defeat the old enemy Scotland 2-0 and then put on a display regarded as "total football" against (ironically) the Netherlands, the team whose performances at the 1974 World Cup had first prompted the phrase's coining. Ince was fouled for a penalty which gave England the lead and helped them towards a 4-1 win; he also picked up a yellow card which rendered him unavailable for the quarter final against Spain, which England won on penalties.
Venables put Ince back in the side for the semifinal against Germany, replacing the suspended Gary Neville as England switched systems to a back three, accommodating Ince in central midfield with Paul Gascoigne and David Platt. Ince and England played superbly but could only manage a 1-1 draw and England lost the penalty shoot out. Ince received criticism for not taking a penalty (the crucial missed kick from Gareth Southgate was England's sixth) and for spending the whole shoot out sitting down in the centre circle with Steve McManaman with their backs to goal.
Another new England coach came on the scene in Glenn Hoddle and Ince kept his place for the next six internationals, which included five crucial qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup in France. England won four of them but lost 1-0 at home to Italy. During the first of these qualifiers against Moldova in Chişinău, a famous photograph of Ince was taken as he tried to climb a wall at the stadium, only for Gascoigne to pull his tracksuit trousers down, revealing Ince's bare buttocks in front of an army of cameras.
Ince won his 30th England cap in May 1997 as England beat Poland 2-0 in Chorzow to leave them with an opportunity to get through to the World Cup provided they could beat Moldova at Wembley and then not lose to Italy in Rome. Moldova were duly dispatched 4-0 and Ince, in an incident reminiscent of Terry Butcher against Sweden seven years earlier, started the Italy match with a white England shirt and ended it with a red one after his own blood soaked the shirt following a deep cut to his head. The game ended goalless and England had qualified.
Ince won no honours in his first season with Liverpool as his new club were in the midst of a largely unsuccessful period where they were cast as 'nearly men' and, rather derogatorily, 'Spice Boys' – a term coined to describe the likes of team mates and good friends of Ince's like Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Jason McAteer and Jamie Redknapp as underachieving playboys in the game; the term itself is derived from the name of the contemporary pop-group, the Spice Girls.
Ince was selected in the England squad for the World Cup in 1998, winning his 40th cap in the opening group game against Tunisia in Marseille. England got through the group but succumbed in the second round to Argentina, again after a penalty shoot out. This time Ince did take a penalty but saw it saved.
Ince's second season with Liverpool was again trophyless but he achieved a personal high point when he scored a late equalizer against Manchester United at Anfield and celebrated with some ferocity in front of the Spion Kop.
In a friendly against Malta prior to the finals, Ince came on as a substitute and won his 50th cap. He duly played in all three of England's group games of the tournament – winning a penalty against Romania in the last game – but England lost two of three matches and were eliminated. Ince immediately retired from the England scene after 53 caps, with just those two goals against San Marino on his scoring records.
Ince concentrated on club football thereafter in his role as club captain, playing three seasons making 106 appearances with 9 goals at Middlesbrough before he was given a free transfer in 2002.
Ince was expected to retire at the end of the 2004-05 season, but he changed his mind halfway through the season following the appointment of Glenn Hoddle as manager of Wolves. In June 2005, he signed a new one-year contract with Wolves. In April 2006, he announced that he wanted to continue playing for Wolves for a further season after speaking with his close friend Teddy Sheringham. However, following Ince's failure to get the manager's job at Wolves in July 2006, the newly appointed manager, Mick McCarthy, stated that Ince would not be returning to Molineux. Upon leaving, Ince declared his intention to return, at some point in the future, as manager of Wolves.
Ince only played one other game for Swindon after the MK victory - before the club announced that Ince had felt he could not fulfil his playing duties with the club and that his contract had been terminated by mutual consent, although he continued coaching at the club to complete his coaching badges.
Ince was named as League Two "manager of the month" in October and December 2007, and again in April 2008.
Ince's first silverware as manager came in the Football League Trophy Final at Wembley on March 31 2008, with the MK Dons defeating Grimsby Town 2-0. He then secured the Dons' return to Coca-Cola League 1 in April 2008 after they beat 3-2. On April 26, the Dons became League Two champions after they beat 2-1.
In the close-season it was speculated that Ince had been contacted by Blackburn Rovers in their search to appoint a new manager, something that Ince himself denied. However, the BBC reported that Ince would be named as Blackburn manager by the end of the week of 19 June. He was appointed on 22 June and became the first black British manager in England's top division. On the first day of the 2008/2009 FA Premier League season, Blackburn Rovers faced Everton at Goodison Park - this was Paul Ince's first premiership game with Blackburn Rovers. David Dunn opened the scoring for Ince's side and Roque Santa Cruz and Andre Oojer later scored in a 3-2 win. Ince's 2008 summer signings include England International goalkeeper Paul Robinson, Julio Santa Cruz, Danny Simpson (Loan), Vince Grella, Carlos Villanueva (Loan), Robbie Fowler, Mark Bunn and Keith Andrews.
|Macclesfield Town||23 October 2006||25 June 2007||35||14||13||8||40%|
|Milton Keynes Dons||25 June 2007||21 June 2008||55||33||10||12||60%|
|Blackburn Rovers||22 June 2008||Present||9||5||3||1||56%|
With Milton Keynes Dons