Blackburn Rovers are confident they satisfy the Premier League that Paul Ince’s managerial experience in the lower leagues compensates for his lack of the most basic coaching qualifications, clearing them to appoint him as their next manager.
Rovers are understood to have approached the league informally last week to discuss the ramifications of appointing Ince, a manager without the prerequisite qualifications to manage in the top flight. It is believed they were told that a formal case for his exemption from League rules would need to be put to the Premier League’s three-man board. No document - or delegation - had arrived at league headquarters from Lancashire by last night but the issue could be fast-tracked through a conference call among board members and dispensation could conceivably be granted today, freeing Rovers to make an official move to appoint Ince. MK Dons will not stand in his way.
Ince’s position was helped yesterday when the League Managers’ Association (LMA) provided him with their sanction to begin work at Ewood Park by indicating they had no objections on the qualifications issue. Rovers chief executive John Williams, who has conducted his search for a manager with characteristic dignity, maintains his reluctance to discuss who he will appoint out of respect to those who have applied. He would only say last night that he might possibly appoint today or by Monday, which seems to suggest confidence in the Premier League’s stance.
Willams said yesterday afternoon that he had not offered anyone the position. His pursuit of a replacement for Mark Hughes has certainly maintained its momentum to the end. Williams travelled to the European Championships this week to interview Michael Laudrup, the former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus striker, who was in Switzerland and has also interviewed Steve McClaren and Sam Allardyce this week.
Laudrup, who yesterday confirmed the discussions, guided Getafe to the final of Spain’s Copa del Rey last season and into the last eight of the Uefa Cup, but he has opted to leave the Madrid-based side after just one season in charge and with the Fenerbahce job not having materialised for him he appears keen on a move to England.
But Ince increasingly looks the prime contender, even though his grounds for dispensation on the coaching issue seem less clear cut than those who have sought it before him. Gareth Southgate successfully argued, when he took up the Middlesbrough job, that a workload for club and country had created inadequate free summer time and there was a problem with course availability. Glenn Roeder’s studies were interrupted by ill health.
The Premier League does not consider these cases to provide a precedent, though, and while Ince has spent time at Aberystwyth on Wednesday - observing an ‘A’ licence course being run by the FA of Wales - his 20 months in club management, Rovers will need to show that his experience guiding Macclesfield away from relegation and the Dons to promotion has been an adequate learning process.
The decision to allow Southgate to continue as Boro boss upset the LMA whose then chief executive John Barnwell was of the view that any general lack of qualifications made managers easier to sack. But current chief executive Richard Bevan, who was appointed last September, has a different outlook on the issue and insisted he will not lobby against Ince's appointment. "It's a Premier League rule. The Premier League has made exceptions to it in the past and that's up to them. From our perspective, if any manager wants help to get qualifications, either football related or non-football related, we are here to help. We would support Paul Ince if he got the Blackburn job."
Rovers keeper Brad Friedel effectively threw his hat in the ring for Ince when he described what a good manager for the club the midfielder with whom he played at Liverpool.