Ince happy to be a soft touch

Norman Fox meets the midfield marauder who has matured on his travels
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The Independent Online
He was a nasty piece of work. Always arguing with referees and brutal in the tackle. He made it worse by being surly. Today he argues a bit, tackles fiercely but laughs a lot and says he is a changed man. Paul Ince is firmly re-established in the England party preparing for today's World Cup match against Moldova and reckons that his international career is taking off again along with what he predicts will be England's post- Euro 96 ascent.

His first impressions of working with Glenn Hoddle at Bisham Abbey last week confirmed his decision to remain an Internazionale player after being tempted to call it a day after only a few months. "He's been coaching us the way they do in Italy. You can tell he's worked abroad. There's a lot of ball skills - it's a lot different to the way it was in the past. It's much more Continental, which is good for me and England."

His time in Italy has persuaded him that, while the England team has enough talented players to compete at the highest level ("beating the Dutch and the way we should have beaten the Germans proved that we had come in from the wilderness"), Premiership sides lag behind. "In Italy you find that each team has eight or nine technically outstanding players. In England we don't have that proportion. We've started doing something about it with England so if we do the same with the clubs we've got a chance - we've got the heart.

"The thing that's most improved about my own game is my touch. That's down to spending more time on ball skills and awareness of where people are. I was never very good at that at United. In Italy you're always up against fantastic players so it's no good just diving in like a lunatic. That helped me in the European Championship."

He says that Terry Venables set England on the right path, "but it's too early to say that Glenn Hoddle has stamped his mark". Even so, Hoddle has already given him the same feeling of well-being that the appointment of Roy Hodgson at Inter did when he was pondering whether to quit and go home. "I had an up-and-down period in Italy, and not being picked for England didn't help, but I feel settled now and I'm playing the best football I have for a long, long time," he said. "It's a great help having a coach who appreciates the English as well as the Italian styles. But to start with I had to win the respect of the other players so that they gave me the ball. I think I've adjusted now but for other reasons there are always going to be times when it's difficult for your wife and kid abroad."

When it was rumoured that he was looking for a quick return, several Premiership clubs made offers. "But I wasn't going to come back so that people could say 'I told you so'. The turning point was the change of manager, otherwise I probably would have been back in England this year. Now I can watch a Premiership match on TV and not think I miss playing in it."

Surprisingly, he feels the most significant change is finding that in Italy the pressure is less than in Britain. "At first I had the press on my back, then I got great pleasure from proving a lot of people wrong. In spite of the amount of publicity football receives in the Italian press, you can have a private life. But I don't think I've matured just because I've gone abroad - I did that when we had our little boy."

As for today's match, he says: "Sometimes you have to sit back and try to win 1-0 before you can play nice football back at home. It's a bit like playing Hereford in the third round." The reverse of the situation is going to come against Italy. "By then we are going to have it all tied up."