The Nick Townsend column: It is black and white – Ince has tough job ahead

Right move for the guv'nor but there is a long way to go before he – or anyone else – can be classed as a great English manager
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The Independent Online

Iwill do it the Fergie way. So a headline paraphrased Paul Ince's approach to Premier League management the day after the self-styled guv'nor became Blackburn Rovers' new gaffer. So, no doubt, he will take on board one of Sir Alex Ferguson's more acerbic observations of a particular player: "I felt he was no longer playing to the discipline I demanded. If footballers think they are above the manager's control there is only one word to be said to them – goodbye." Not that it should require further elaboration, but that was the Scotsman's explanation for his decision to wash his hands of Ince, a man who has long travelled with baggage marked "handle with extreme care – precious contents".

In fairness, the former Manchester United and England midfielder has long defied those who believed that his somewhat exaggerated opinion of his own leadership qualities could be his downfall. Ince, another of Ferguson's managerial undergraduates now awarded his degree, was the saviour of Macclesfield, keeping them in the Football League, and then guided MK Dons to the League Two title. Now, as the first black British manager to progress to the Premier League, he will come under intense scrutiny.

It is long overdue. It cannot be right that football management has failed to reflect the fact that a third of Premier League players are not white. And yet this will be an exacting test of even Ince's self-belief. Not just because he is black but because he is British, a nationality that, these days, tends to dominate managerial places in the Premier League's survival zone, not among any of the would-be champions.

While Ince assumes control of a club who finished seventh last season, it is worth reminding ourselves of the realities he faces. Rovers, having punched above their weight for years, have nowhere to go except down, particularly if, as appears likely, they lose their key attacking components, Roque Santa Cruz and David Bentley. The team that Jack Walker built sports a "for sale" sign, which is never a welcome addition to any club's garden wall. In the meantime, the trust that the late owner created to continue to provide money "for the foreseeable future" has reportedly stopped that funding, with the situation to be reviewed next year.

That is the club the crusader inherits. He will be buoyed by goodwill from many quarters, sufficient, at least initially, to outweigh the fact that the more sceptical will contend that Ince is over-promoted and underqualified. And yet, though many of us would place ourselves in the former camp, there remains a definite niggling concern that yet again English football is failing to regard football management with the gravitas it merits. Once again we have an appointment of a man who can certainly show us his medals, and who has performed well enough in the lower leagues, and that is apparently sufficient justification for him to be elevated to the elite.

When it looked as though his lack of the Uefa Pro Licence might prevent him succeeding Mark Hughes at Ewood Park, Ince's old England team-mate Ian Wright sprung, predictably, into rant mode: "It was a downright disgrace," he opined, that "apparently a guy who has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world, has captained his country and then worked wonders in the lower leagues, isn't suitable to manage in the top flight." Ince has been allowed to qualify on the job, as it were, over the next two years. By the end of that period we will have a good indication of whether he truly is cut out to be a Premier League manager.

Although many would concur with Wrighty's sentiments, they tend to ignore one of those inconvenient truths – that our leading managers were not necessarily gifted footballers and, conversely, many fine players failed as managers. There is a world of difference between the two occupations.

It is no coincidence that England's top managers are now almost invariably recruited from abroad, where amongst the football powers the job is treated less as a haven for old pros who may just get lucky when thrust, with no managerial background, into the fray, and more as a serious profession whose practitioners receive their education from many sources, including, as Wright suggests, "sitting in a classroom being taught by supposed football boffins". It is possibly more than mere coincidence that England does not view these qualifications seriously, and also fails to produce a coach or manager deemed worthy of stewardship of a top-four club.

For the moment, Ince can take pride in his achievement of becoming the first black Englishman to become a Premier League manager. Yet he knows that the ultimate challenge is becoming acknowledged as an English Premier League manager who succeeded.

Motty and Lawro are such a turn-off

Perhaps more disconcerting for the BBC than the fact that viewers missed Germany's second goal on Wednesday night when the line went down because of a Vienna thunderstorm was the relief for many that, when the picture reappeared, it was accompanied not by Motty and Lawro. Instead, we heard the more illuminating and entertaining 5 Live commentary from Alan Green and Chris Waddle.

Unfortunately, it didn't last. They soon reconnected John Motson and Mark Lawrenson, the latter intent on extracting maximum amusement from Fatih Terim's first name. Yes, we got the joke the first time.

But it did make you think. As regular listeners will agree, Green and his sidekick Mike Ingham, and analysts including Waddle and Graham Taylor, do a great job describing the action. So given that Motson, BBC's voice of football, bows out tonight after covering Germany v Spain, why not make it a regular thing to give us radio commentary over a TV picture? It would be more economic for the Beeb.

What can be agreed upon is that tonight, at the finale of a tournament that began entertainingly and was good in parts in the latter stages, will end with Motty reminding us that "I believe I'm right in saying that this is Spain's first major trophy for 44 years". Then again, it could be a case of him exhorting us never to underestimate the Germans...

Speaking of that nation, Michael Stich's "interview" of Ana Ivanovic on 5 Live was presumably supposed to extract more from the Serb than a professional journalist might have done. But despite the former Wimbledon champion's dry humour, which helps him perform well as a presenter, his questioning of Ivanovic was reminiscent of an infatuated schoolboy. Did she receive loveletters? Did she have a boyfriend? The world No 1 responded gamely, but it was cringe-making. Stick to on-court conversation, Michael.

Bolton's decision to cut prices is just the ticket

Back to domestic football issues tomorrow, and even in supposedly cost-conscious Britain there are two certainties. The wheeling and dealing of players from Euro 2008, at inflated prices, starts in earnest. Premier League season-ticket sales follow suit.

It is as if professional football believes it exists in a bubble of entitlement, along with MPs. Despite huge income from the Premier League TV deal, one recent survey estimates the cost of the cheapest adult full-price season ticket will increase by eight per cent, on average. Eleven Premier League clubs' prices have risen by that figure or more.

There is, though, evidence that clubs are responding to fans' concerns. Wigan, Fulham, Middlesbrough and Chelsea have frozen prices and Bolton have actually dropped theirs, by 14 per cent. A child's season ticket at the Reebok is now £49.

The chairman, Phil Gartside, says: "I think we disengaged with the fans a bit. It's important that we get back to being the homely, family club that we claim to be. The fans are crucial. We've always said that, but they're much more important than perhaps we even realised."

Isn't it time a similar air of reality blows around every club?

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