Thursday, June 26, 2008

For Those Who Haven't Heard, Paul Ince Is Blackburn's New Manager

Blackburn's hiring of Paul Ince four days ago to become the club's next manager was probably the most under-the-radar, low-key appointment I've seen from a Premiership side in a long, long time. Ongoing action at Euro 2008, the release of next season's league schedule, and worst of all, unfounded transfer gossip, all received more coverage in the media than this piece of news. I could barely find any meaningful, worthwhile articles concerning the HIRING, whereas the RUMORS surrounding Luiz Felipe Scolari's move to Chelsea (which eventually did come to fruition) dominated newspapers and websites all over the place.

I can understand why, at least to some extent. With no disrespect to the team and its fans, Blackburn Rovers is a small club. They play in a small stadium in a small city (or large town, if you prefer), and have managed a high finish of 6th place (twice) in their seven seasons since returning to England's top flight. They have no real high-profile players and have had to assemble a roster comprised largely of spare parts and castaways in recent years.

Still, Ince is now the first black British manager in the Premiership, and while I wish we were at a place and time in humanity where that wasn't such a big deal, the fact of the matter is that it is. It is a significant step forward and for Ince personally, a well-deserved opportunity to show what he's made of at the highest level.

Ince was as good of a central midfielder as they come in his days as a player, which officially ended in 2007 for Macclesfield Town but came to a close in earnest for Wolves after the 2005-2006 season. He was at his peak with Manchester United in the early '90s, where he won 10 trophies in five different competitions from 1989-1995. He became one of the rare British and more particularly, English, players to leave the shores of the UK and have success on the continent when he played two seasons for Inter Milan, reaching the UEFA Cup final in his second year. He then came back to England and played for Liverpool, considered a very surprising move then and now given the fierce rivalry between United and the Merseyside club.

As a manager, Ince has also been a success. He's plied his trade in England's lower levels for two seasons -- 2006-2007 at Macclesfield Town, and 2007-2008 at MK Dons, the former Wimbledon FC.

Ince's first gig threw him into the fire immediately; when he took over at Macclesfield, the club was at the bottom of League Two, seven points away from safety, and seemed destined to be relegated out of the Football League. Under Ince's guidance, the team was able to avoid the drop on the last day of the season and went a respectable 14-8-13 in all competitions.

He then hopped over to MK Dons, also a League Two side. They got off to a flying start and were at the top of the table in September, and just two months later, he was linked with then-managerless Wigan, Derby, and Norwich (Championship). He denied the rumors and ended up leading MK Dons to two pieces of silverware -- the League Two title and the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. In 55 games with the club, Ince recorded a very impressive 33-12-10 record.

Now he's at Blackburn, despite the fact that he doesn't have his UEFA Pro License. He doesn't have his "B" or "A" License either, but will be working towards each of those badges in the coming seasons and must start the Pro License process in the summer of 2010.

None of that stuff matters to me; I don't understand why such a premium is placed on them. It's simple: If a guy can coach, he can coach. He shouldn't need badges and licenses and certificates or whatever else, if he can coach, he can coach. I'm sorry, but simply having those qualifications means nothing to me. It's not as if he'll gain some magical skills and coaching techniques the day he gets them that he didn't have beforehand. There have been plenty of managers in the Premiership, and in other top leagues across Europe as well, who have their Pro Licenses and been complete busts at their respective clubs.

Ince has been very good, if not excellent, at both stops so far and nothing indicates to me that he can't continue to get the job done at Blackburn against the big boys in the Premiership. He'll have limited resources, yes, but guys like Mark Hughes, Sam Allardyce, and Martin O'Neill have all proven that winning is possible without a large budget.

Blackburn seems like another stepping stone job for Ince, but at the end of the day, that's fine. To reach his ultimate goal, managing a big club, he needs to be successful at Blackburn first, and Blackburn is a club that does have some ambitions. I think this is a perfect fit, and I feel comfortable in saying that Paul Ince will acquit himself very nicely in Lancashire over the next few years.

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