Paul Ince admits there was a moment driving down to Reading for his first managerial job in eight years that he reflected ‘I must be mad’.
The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Liverpool midfielder who became England’s first black captain has split his time between the TV studio and the golf course since 2014.
But when the call came to help keep the relegation-haunted Royals stay in the Championship Ince could not refuse – not least because of his lack of opportunities in the intervening years.
Ince, who managed at Macclesfield, Milton Keynes, Blackburn Rovers, Notts County and Blackpool, has in the past openly queried why more qualified black coaches are not called for interview.
And as the interim boss basked in the glory of a vital debut win over Birmingham City this week, the issue of opportunity was never far from the conversation.
Ince, 54, said: “People know me, my character hasn’t changed. So I wasn’t nervous at all, and it was lovely to be out there. It is nice to have that experience that when you can see things happening.
“People kept saying ‘Oh, you haven’t managed for seven or eight years’. But if you don’t get the opportunity to manage, it doesn’t mean you can’t manage – just that you didn’t have the chance.
“And if you don’t, then you go and do Sky Sports or BT Sport. Have I thought ‘You’ve really missed this?’ No…but I have thought ‘You must be f*****g mad, Paul!’
“I was driving down the M6 to Reading and thinking I should be on the other side of the motorway going back up north! But joking aside, it is easy when you are winning games to think ‘I’m glad I’m back’, but you know there will be very challenging times in the next 12-13 games.
“And there will be times when you might think do I need all this again, the stress and the sleepless nights and picking teams and worrying about injuries.
“That’s the tough bit I have not really missed – but actually getting out there and trying to help these players stay in this league, that is what I am up for.
Rae will join Paul Ince, Michael Gilkes and Mikele Leigertwood in the Royals dugout tonight for our meeting with Birmingham City at the Select Car Leasing Stadium.
🔽 Full details.
“Why has it been eight years? It is about opportunities. My last job was at Blackpool, and the job that me and Alex Rae did there was an amazing job, no one else could have done that job with the lowest budget we had.
“So when you lose your job because you were doing your Pro Licence, that’s not right. I don’t know what it is and I’m not going to go deep into that right now. I don’t know what the reason is.
“All you can do now whether it is eight years or eight months is do what you can now and show that you can manage. I have spent years doing punditry, watching every game religiously - ask me about any football, any league, and I’ll tell you the answer.
“Golf is my passion, I love it and I was looking forward to cleaning my wedges and playing on Wednesday – but now it’s thinking about training!”
Ince’s first away game in charge is a trip to Blackpool, where things ended badly in his last role as a boss. After a great start to the 2013-14 season, results deteriorated and Ince got a five-game ban for pushing and abusing an official.
He was sacked by text by former owner Karl Oyston. Ince added: “It should be fun for me going back to Blackpool on Saturday – at least Karl Oyston isn’t there any more so I should be all right.
“I’m an emotional man. It’s funny, the club secretary Claire gave me a 17-page document on rules, fines if you ever go at the fourth official or the referee.
“So I told Alex Rae keep your mouth shut, I’ll my mouth shut and we’ll be okay. But when it gets to the last 15 minutes, it just comes out of you and you can’t help yourself.
“It is bubbling inside you and the closer you get to the final whistle you’re contesting every decision… ‘Yes, offside, come on ref!’”
Paul Ince managerial CV
Aug 2006 – signs one-year deal as player-coach for Swindon but leaves after playing just two games
Oct 2006 – joins Macclesfield as player-manager and saves them from relegation from League Two
June 2007 – unveiled as MK Dons manager, wins League Two title and Football League Trophy
June 2008 – Named manager of Blackburn Rovers, becoming first black Premier League boss
Dec 2008 – Sacked by Blackburn after winning three games out of 17
July 2009 – Rejoins MK Dons but cannot repeat success of first spell
April 2010 – Announces he is to leave club at end of season
October 2010 – Signs three-year deal at Notts County
April 2011 – leaves County after losing nine games in a row – a club record
Feb 2013 – named manager of Blackpool
Jan 2014 – sacked by Blackpool
Feb 2022 – appointed interim boss at Reading