The management career of Paul Ince has been erratic to say the least, from the joy of rescuing Macclesfield Town from relegation and the success of his fist stint at MK Dons, to his disappointing failures with Blackburn Rovers and Notts County. It has been seven years of ups and downs since he first took to the dugout at Moss Rose in 2006 and it is fitting that Ince is rejuvenating his reputation in Blackpool, the home of the roller-coaster centred Pleasure Beach.
Ince’s appointment in February was a surprise choice for the Seasiders after the former England captain spent two years in the footballing wilderness, “watching Jeremy Kyle and shopping with the missus” as he puts it, following a doomed spell in charge at Notts County. Chairman Kyle Oyston decided to go for Ince, probably swayed by his regular trips to Bloomfield Road in order to watch his son Tom, and with the Tangerines sitting top of the Championship with Ince being named manager of the month for August, it has been a shrewd choice.
With 13 points from the first 5 games, Blackpool are unbeaten and Ince was quick to accredit the form of the players for his individual recognition. “I have won this award because of the players, not because of me”, he said. It is the form of his son, retained over the summer following interest from Cardiff and Liverpool, that has been a great help, scoring vital goals in wins over Doncaster and Watford despite a thigh injury ruling him out for three weeks after the derby defeat to Preston in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
The goal conceded to Tom Clarke at Deepdale has been of the three Blackpool have shipped in their opening six games however, the duo of Craig Cathcart and Gary McKenzie forming a solid partnership in the heart of the back four. Right-back Kirk Broadfoot offers a wealth of experience from his time with Glasgow Rangers and Jack Robinson has been loaned in from Liverpool to play on the left, Ince making use of his contacts and former ties to the club to bring in the promising 19 year old full-back. The loan system has also been utilised to bring in Bradley Orr, a right-back with a wealth of experience at Championship level, and Nathan Delfouneso, the Aston Villa striker who returns to Bloomfield Road after a successful spell last term.
Blackpool lost 16 players over the summer and although finding frustration in their search to replace them, they had to wait until the latter stages of the transfer window in order to bolster the squad, bringing in Nathan Tyson from Derby and Dutch winger Marvin Zeegelaar on loan from Turkish club Elazigspor as well as Orr from Blackburn. Oyston has been forced into defending the club’s better late than never transfer policy as injuries and lack of numbers has compromised Ince early in the season, though the manager has failed to see it as an issue, steering them to the summit of the league with four wins out of five, separated from QPR by goal difference.
It has been a great job done so far by Ince when it is considered the financial muscle of Harry Redknapp’s Rangers who spent over £10 million over the off-season, half of which on Blackpool’s energetic winger Matt Phillips. Oyston banked the majority of that fee and handed Ince £500,000 to sign Bristol City’s Steve Davies as well as bringing in McKenzie and Bobby Grant for small fees. The rest, Neal Bishop, Nathan Tyson, Ricardo Fuller and Michael Chopra were all acquired on frees, a far cry from the £4 million QPR were able to lavish on Charlie Austin.
With Ince’s battling qualities as a player abiding in the memory of his blood-stained evening as England captain in Rome, it was never going to be a side that was forged on lavished spending. Instead, it is an Ince that has gone back to his managerial roots, the coach who performed so well on the smallest of budgets at Macclesfield. “Looking back, taking over Macclesfield was the toughest job ever”, he said, “It’s not about money for me. It’s about getting on the coaching ground, training and developing these players”.
While the goals have not exactly flowed, the Tangerines have managed just four since scoring three at Doncaster on the opening day, a fiercely tenacious spine of Neal Bishop, Barry Ferguson, Chris Basham and Isaiah Osbourne will ensure that the back four will ensure the sturdiest of protective shields. With a hard-working midfield in place, it allows for the technical qualities of Delfouneso, Ince and Nathan Eccleston to thrive in the final third, as well as the likes of Angel Martinez and Steve Davies.
Ince’s chosen system seems to be a 4-2-3-1 anchored by a solid, imposing midfield duo of Osbourne and Ferguson, the manager able to afford his defence such protection, safe in the knowledge that in the line of Chopra, Fuller, Tyson and Tom Barkhuizen, he boasts enough experience and striking quality to be a significant threat at the other end.
Ince will put away his August award and concentrate on returning to his work at Blackpool, happy enough to be in work after his sustained absence following his time at Notts County and focusing on returning Blackpool to the Premier League after their relegation in 2011. For Ince however, his motives go deeper, “It’s not for self-glory. I want to manage to see a smile on the players’ faces and to know I have played a part in their lives” he said. With Blackpool at the top of the league and Ince’s career back on an upward curve, he is definitely doing achieving that.