He was one of the truly great midfielders of his generation. A midfield general for Manchester United who won two Premier League titles, two FA Cups and a European Super Cup at Old Trafford, he was a key cog as Sir Alex Ferguson learnt how to dominate domestically.
For his country, he was a trailblazer, and became England’s first ever black captain in 1993, before getting his very own ‘Terry Butcher moment’ with a bandage around the head in Rome five years later. There’s no doubting his footballing credentials, but as a manager, Paul Ince has become somewhat of a joke name.
Those jokes reached a crescendo this weekend as Championship side Reading announced he would take interim charge after the departure of Velko Paunovic. Having been out of a job since January 2014, it marks a surprising return to the dugout for a man who has been constantly belittled in his eight year quest to get back on the managerial merry-go-round.
The fact his son Tom is currently on loan at the Royals from Stoke doesn’t help the situation - with critics online comparing the football club to a Sunday League side that a parent has decided to take over, but Ince does have Football League credentials.
Back in 2006, when he stepped into the dugout for the first time with League Two Macclesfield Town, he achieved something few thought was possible upon his arrival. The Silkmen were seven points off safety when he arrived, but Ince motivated his troops and got them over the line, securing Football League survival and even getting on the pitch on the final day for a final appearance of a glittering career.
But Ince has had a way of rubbing people up the wrong way during his career. He famously fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson at United, who called him a “big time Charlie” and a “f*cking bottler” before shipping him out to Inter Milan. The big time Charlie tag is completely understandable, and perhaps why so many people dislike Ince.
As a player, he gave himself the nickname “Guv’nor” and then wanted the rest of his teammates and staff to call him as such. His car number plate ‘GUV 8’, did little to get the public onside, while his departure from Old Trafford, after six years at the club was unexpected, but ultimately correct.
Despite spending the same amount of time at Manchester United as Cristiano Ronaldo, he tarnished his reputation by joining Liverpool and seemed to relish in his attempt to deny United the treble in 1999. As a player he was admired, if not loved, and this brash personality has carried over onto the touchline.
As Jose Mourinho has proved, arrogance can be justified for a manager when things are going well, but when things start to slip, it seems misplaced. However, Ince’s start to managerial life was exceptional. As an ambitious man, desperate to get to the top, Ince left Macclesfield for MK Dons, also in League Two at the time.
In his first season, the club, albeit with a large budget for the level, won the League Two title and the Football League Trophy in 2008, as Ince scooped three Manager of the Month awards along the way. Premier League teams came knocking on his door, but by the summer, it was Blackburn Rovers who got their man. In doing so, he broke down more barriers, as he became the first British black man to manage in the Premier League, but things didn’t work out on the pitch.
Despite investment, just three wins from 17 across his 177 day spell as manager led to his sacking. It was a brutal start to life at the top for Ince, and in truth, something he has never recovered from. A second spell at MK Dons was less successful, before a shocking spell at Notts County left his reputation in tatters.
Still, Blackpool gave him his most recent opportunity and he made a flying start at Bloomfield Road. After a win at Bournemouth, the Tangerines had made their best ever start to a season, yet that Cherries win also showed the worst of Ince.
He threw a bottle that hit a female steward in the crowd and was then banned for five matches after he called the fourth official a c**t no fewer than 15 times, before shoving him in the chest in the tunnel. This was the nasty side of Ince that has so often marred his career.
Blackpool unravelled and Ince was sacked in January and that led to an eight-year exodus from football management, until now. It is a brave move from Reading to appoint him on an interim basis, five points away from the drop zone, but he has shown he has the fight for a relegation battle in the past.
Ince has a chequered past, that is for sure. He’s made several mistakes in both his playing and managerial career, and that seems to have marked his card for many onlookers. If the 54-year-old has matured in his time away from the game, this opportunity could mark a fresh start, but the grey clouds continue to gather above Reading and Ince is unlikely to be the man to stop the storm. Instead his whirlwind personality could cause a tornado.