August 11, 2022

“As a partnership, we were the best.”

Paul Ince and Roy Keane only played together for two seasons, but they were a dominant midfield duo. Reflecting on their short but successful partnership, last year, Ince declared, “We were invincible.”

Alex Ferguson, their boss at Manchester United, took issue with Paul Ince signing for Liverpool, back in 1997, and he was not shy in sharing his opinions on it.

Off the back of a disappointing 1994/95 season, in which Blackburn and Everton pipped United to respective league and FA Cup honours, Ferguson allowed United to accept a bid of £7.5 million from Inter Milan, for Ince.

The Scot also allowed Mark Hughes to leave, while Andrei Kanchelskis moved to Everton after his representatives sought far too much money than the club felt was fair. Ince spent two seasons in Serie A with Internazionale but craved a move back to England.

With the likes of Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and David Beckham all flourishing, by 1997, United was not an option. Instead, it was Liverpool who offered a route home, and the chance to compete for silverware. That move, to big rivals of United’s, riled Ferguson and his derisive comments on Ince were picked up on a couple of occasions.

Ahead of one game against Liverpool, in the 1998/99 season, Ferguson and United had granted access to cameras for a behind-the-scenes documentary on the club. During that access, the production team recorded Ferguson warning his players about Ince.

“If he tries to bully you, you f**king enjoy it. Don’t f***ing attempt to let him f***ing bully you. I don’t care if you do it verbally or physically, you just f***ing make sure you’re ready for him… his f**king big-time Charlie, bit. He’s against f**king men, am I right?”

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Ince move to Liverpool ‘tarnished reputation’ – Roy Keane

By 1999, with Liverpool finishing third in the league and Manchester United treble champions, Gerard Houllier sanctioned a £1 million move away for Ince to Middlesbrough. He lack that bite and fizz of his 20s, but he gave Middlesbrough and Wolves a few decent seasons before retiring in 2007. He picked up the last of his 53 England caps in 2000.

The high point of Ince’s career was, without doubt, his six seasons with United [three of which were in the Premier League]. He played 281 times for the club, scored 28 goals, and won two league titles, two FA Cups, a League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup.

That move to Liverpool, and the bitterness of Ferguson, did take away from all that Ince did for the club. He helped United end their 26-year wait for a league title, back in 1993, and scored 14 goals in 103 games during that season and the one after, as they clinched the double.

On Sky’s Monday Night Football, Roy Keane was asked to select his Greatest Manchester United XI of the Premier League era. His team, and his opinion of Ince, may help change the minds of many of the club’s supporters.

Keane overlooked the likes of Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick for his centre midfield pairing, as well as ruling himself out.

“Bryan Robson has to go in there,” Keane began. “Great player for Man United. Full of courage. Scored some big goals for the club when Man United, maybe, weren’t at their best.

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“I had some brilliant days with Nicky Butt and, obviously, Paul Scholes. This one is up for debate, but, next to Robbo, I’m going to put Paul Ince. Another very, very good player. Maybe tarnished his reputation, of course, [when] he ended up playing for Liverpool.

“When he was United, there was all this talk of Incey being ‘The Guv’nor’, and people held that against him. That was just banter. No nastiness with that.

“Incey was a really good teammate, and a very good player. Tough leaving Scholes out, and Butt. When I first got to Man United, they had just won the league. Then we went on to win the double. I thought Incey was brilliant in midfield. And then you had Robbo, who was just coming to the end of his career. Good teammate to have next to you, in terms of being together in the trenches. He could head it, defend and get you a goal. Strong. And, do you know what, I enjoyed his company.”

Keane himself left Manchester United under a cloud, and with Alex Ferguson cribbing about him. By that stage, though, he had given 12 years to the club and had cemented his place as an all-time legend at the club. His United legacy was, to a large extent, unaffected.

Interestingly, when Ince did make that move away from Liverpool, it was an old United teammate who offered him that way out – then Middlesbrough manager Bryan Robson.