International Football: Taylor muddled by Ince mystery: England manager unravels injury riddle as his Scottish counterpart strikes back at barbs

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The Independent Online
DISTINGUISHED internationals of yesteryear were shaking their heads in disbelief here last night at England's tacit admission that they had to promise Paul Ince his first cap tomorrow to ensure that he accompanied the squad to Spain.

The Manchester United midfielder was withdrawn from the England party on Sunday night, shortly after making an impressively energetic contribution to his club's 2-0 victory at home to Leeds. Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said Ince was suffering from a 'mystery virus' - a condition which improved within minutes after a telephone conversion between Ferguson and Lawrie McMenemy, England's assistant manager.

McMenemy, who had witnessed Ince's dynamic performance on television, pointed out that he would be in the starting line-up against Spain, and said a medical examination by the England doctor would be required before he was allowed to drop out.

Ferguson put the phone down and, after informing Ince of the situation, hastily convened a second post-match press conference at Old Trafford to say that it was 'all change'. Ince would be going after all, to 'give it a go', there being a world of difference from travelling as a passenger and making your international debut.

Graham Taylor, who has fulminated against frivolous withdrawals in the past, sought to play down an embarrassing situation. He said: 'There was a discussion to start with, as to whether Ince would be coming, and we applied rule one, which is what most players are interested in, namely whether they are going to play or not.

'We had lost David Batty, injured, and were quite short in midfield, so it seemed right and proper to let Paul know that he would be playing if he came. There is no problem.'

Some of us queued to disagree. Had we really reached the stage where players had to be bribed with a starting place before they would answer their country's call? Ince had been too unwell to sit around, as a passenger, as Ferguson put it, but felt he was fit enough to play an international match against one of the strongest teams in Europe. Preposterous.

Should it be necessary to tell a player that he was playing to ensure that he turned up? Taylor's response was scarcely convincing. 'I don't know,' he said. 'As far as we were concerned, there was no problem.'

The manager's explanation went as follows: 'We had been told that there was a virus around Old Trafford, and at 11.30 on Sunday morning, having had notification that Tony Adams had lacerated his head, Lawrie phoned Alex.

'He was told again that there was trouble with the virus, and although Alex was sure Gary Pallister would be OK to replace Adams, he asked us to check at 6.30, after the game. We did, and were informed that Pallister was coming.

'We then asked about Ince, and were told that he was out on his feet after having an exceptionally good game. We said: 'Look the situation is that Ince will play and we will phone you back in five minutes'. We phoned back, and both players were coming. That is the story from our point of view.'

Ince himself was 'keen to win my first cap', and said: 'It's not a case of not wanting to play for England.' No one had suggested that it was, but the word 'play' needs to be emphasised. He had not been too keen to travel, it seems, when he thought he was destined for the bench.

The proximity of Lourdes, just over the border, is perhaps just as well. Apart from the convalescent United pair, Gazza arrived late from Rome yesterday after missing a connection in Barcelona.

The thigh strain which has delayed his debut for Lazio prevented him from playing a full part in training, and he has been forbidden from doing anything other than stretching exercises here.

Needless to say, England could do with him, what was always going to be a difficult task complicated still further by the loss of six of Taylor's original nominees.

'It was a classic weekend for an England manager,' he said. 'You name your squad, then wait by the phone to have your team selected for you.'

Having promised him a place, was he confident that Ince would be fit enough to take it? A knowing smile. 'If he has got a virus complaint and plays the way he did yesterday, we will give him another dose of the same virus.'

A mysterious one, indeed.

(Photograph omitted)