Ince prepared to persuade McManaman

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The Independent Football

Paul Ince intends to use his time between England training sessions this week to persuade Steve McManaman of the merits of joining Middlesbrough.

Paul Ince intends to use his time between England training sessions this week to persuade Steve McManaman of the merits of joining Middlesbrough.

Just over a month ago the Teessiders agreed a fee, believed to be around £8m, for the mercurial winger, although at the time McManaman said he would be "barmy" to leave Madrid for Middlesbrough. By confirming that negotiations with Real had taken place, Boro's normally cagey chief executive, Keith Lamb, indicated that McManaman, ignored in pre-season and the only fit midfielder not to travel for the Super Cup final in Monaco last Friday, could be persuaded to change his mind.

If so, Ince has a vital role when the two meet to prepare for Saturday's international with France. They are close friends, to the extent that they holiday together, and, as someone who endured some unpleasant times abroad, the Middlesbrough captain understands McManaman's sense of isolation.

"He was an integral part of them winning the European Cup and for him to be treated like crap is disgusting," Ince said. "I have spoken to him and told him: 'You don't have to prove a point. You will not be coming back a failure.' I suffered something similar at Inter Milan after three months but decided to stick it out, but Steve needs to be playing football."

Ince said he needed to "get into McManaman's ribs" to sell him Middlesbrough, who will stump up the kind of salary, believed to be around £2.5m, he will earn for sitting on the bench at the Bernabeu. However, he has indicated he does not see his immediate future in the Premiership and Lazio can certainly match Middlesbrough's money.

They needed McManaman, or someone like him, on Saturday afternoon, which they began leading the Premiership. Just like at Carlisle in 1974 and Charlton a couple of years ago, the table printed in the match programme showing them top of the heap will be treasured by those who realise it is unlikely to happen too often.

Facing a side hampered by injuries and drained after crossing the hurdle into the Champions' League on Wednesday night, Bryan Robson's tactics were simple; Boro would contain Leeds until they tired and then hit them on the break. As Robson acknowledged with a pained smile, the master plan worked perfectly for five minutes, or as long as it took Leeds to score.

By the 11th minute they were two up and for Boro, without Alen Boksic, who had still not recovered from a groin strain, the game was up. To make matters worse, Paul Okon broke his foot in the first minute. He struggled on, but will miss up to six weeks of the season.

Middlesbrough's chief disadvantage was that their three centre-backs, marshalled by the admirable Gary Pallister, had an average age of 34, 10 years older than Mark Viduka, the most senior of Leeds' three strikers.

Nevertheless the back three, although stretched to the limit, were at fault for neither goal. The first came as Michael Bridges swept the ball across the area for Lee Bowyer to drive home.

Middlesbrough scarcely had time to regroup when Olivier Dacourt tried a shot from distance which struck Alan Smith's boot and left Mark Schwarzer hopelessly stranded. Smith has scored five of Leeds' six goals this season. If last season was a time of frustration and stagnation, he has begun the new one in a glorious summer sprint.

Leeds tired in the second half, but even when Phil Stamp cracked in Pallister's lay-off from a corner, they still had enough in reserve to hold on.

Goals: Bowyer (5) 1-0; Smith (11) 2-0; Stamp (80) 2-1.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Vickers, Pallister, Cooper; Fleming, O'Neill (Job, 37), Karembeu, Ince, Okon (Stamp, 75); Deane, Ricard (Whelan, 65). Substitutes not used: Summerbell, Crossley (gk).

Leeds United (4-3-3): Martyn; Kelly, Duberry, Harte, Woodgate (Radebe 23); Bakke (Jones 17 sub Mills 85), Dacourt, Bowyer; Bridges, Viduka, Smith. Substitutes not used: Huckerby, Robinson (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Tring).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Ince, Cooper.

Attendance: 31,626.

Man of the match: Bridges.