It’s hard to judge what to expect from Tom Ince, who joined Reading on loan until the end of the season from Stoke City on deadline day. It was part of a swap move with Liam Moore going in the opposite direction - aptly, both players are in the same position: unwanted by their parent clubs and in need of a restart elsewhere.
So how might Ince’s restart in Berkshire go? We spoke to Potters fan Ben Rowley, host of Stoke podcast The YYY-Files. He gave us an overview of Ince’s time in Staffordshire, strengths, weaknesses and much more.
How would you sum up Ince’s time at Stoke?
A monumental disappointment. We signed him for £12m from Huddersfield Town when we got relegated from the Premier League, thinking he’d be the the jewel in our crown in our push for an immediate return. Considering we bought him for the same amount as we sold Xherdan Shaqiri in the space of a matter of days, it could be considered as the biggest downgrade of all time.
He was signed by Gary Rowett to be a winger who’d be the difference-maker in games, setting up the likes of Benik Afobe and James McClean. All of those names have now departed Stoke; that in itself is more indicative of Stoke’s decline over the last few years than Tom Ince’s career in ST4 alone.
What are his main strengths?
He’s a technical footballer, without a doubt. His tight dribbling is useful for squeezing himself out of a tight situation with his back to goal. He’s got a decent strike on him when he’s in a good goalscoring position. His passes can be relatively incisive, if he’s got his tail up. Many Stoke players have labelled Ince as the most talented footballer they’ve seen at the club, which is some credit considering some of the players we do have.
How about weaknesses?
His confidence is (or perhaps was) shot to pieces. He endured a poor slump in form as his teammates at Stoke did the same, and it was that vicious circle that allowed things to spiral. Sadly, Ince relies on that confidence to execute that natural ability he clearly possesses.
When his head’s down, he refuses to take on opponents, which makes double-marking him effective at completely shutting him down. I’ve also never seen a more one-footed (left) player in my life. It makes him very predictable as a winger, and very easy to shut down when he’s out of confidence, as mentioned before.
What can he bring to Reading tactically?
He started out as a winger at Stoke and failed miserably. He was left out of the side for over a year and then, due to injuries, he’s been reintroduced as one of a midfield three. It’s given him a new lease of life, as he’s been scoring plenty of goals and playing relatively well in this position.
He could certainly work as an inside forward or an attacking midfielder. He needs runners off him and plenty of effort from those around him in midfield to make up for his lack of defensive prowess. Oh, he’s also popped up as a right wing back for us occasionally too.
What’s his character like?
I must admit, I’ve rarely questioned his effort. He seems to train very well, whether he’s in the team or not, and is often seen making himself busy on and off the ball. However, as a game progresses, you can see his head drop if things are going against him and it’s to the detriment of the team.
He takes himself and his game very seriously, and takes it very personally if his team are losing or if his performances haven’t been good enough. He’s never warmed himself to the Stoke fans, whether that’s just because of how much of a disappointing transfer he’s been, or whether he’s simply just very personable in that environment.
Will he be a success at Reading?
One thing’s for sure, he’s due a new lease of life. He’s only 30 and his technical ability hasn’t faded all that much. His confidence needs restoring and his performances his seasons will go some way to repairing that.
If he can play in your team regularly, with players in and around him that will play to his strengths, I can see him being a great signing, especially as he’ll be available on a free in the summer. He’s a player that needs to have a team built around him, otherwise he will falter once again.