As the old saying goes, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’. Well, I may have to question that because it’s now 12 months to the day since Paul Ince was appointed as interim manager. And while it’s gone flown by in a bit of a blur, the word ‘fun’ isn’t the first one that comes to mind.
His appointment was met with utter bemusement by the entire fanbase and since then - as everything and everyone seems to do in football - he has split opinion among the Loyal Royals.
This is a tribal sport; it seems you must sit on one side of the fence or the other in any kind of debate. However, there are things that Ince has got right in his time so far and there are also things that he has got wrong. So, I’m going to look at his time in charge of the Royals so far with a bit more of a balanced perspective (well, I'm going to try to anyway).
What Ince has got right
The obvious observation about Paul Ince’s reign so far is that we’re in a much better position now than we were when Ince joined - both on the pitch in terms of results and league standing, and off the pitch too.
Now, you could say that it couldn’t really have got any worse. We were a shambles of a club when Veljko Paunovic was finally put out his misery. However, Ince has done a fair amount to help us become a better team.
Firstly, and arguably most importantly, he kept us up last season. For the future of this club, that was absolutely essential. It was by no means pretty and I'm not saying he’s revolutionised us as a footballing team since he came in (far from it), but he instilled qualities that were non-existent before he arrived that played a huge part in us surviving the drop. This team has 10 times more fight, aggression and spirit now than it did 12 months ago, and Ince has to be given credit for that.
In my opinion though it’s off the pitch where Ince has impressed the most. He made it crystal clear towards the back end of last season that he wouldn’t be staying at the club unless promised things were sorted out behind the scenes. Some much needed and impressive appointments have been made since Ince joined.
Mark Bowen joined as head of football operations, Brian Carey was appointed director of recruitment, Eddie Niedzwiecki as head of player development and, most recently, Jared Dublin as head of scouting. Essentially, it’s looks as though we’ve started to get our house in order.
You have to assume Ince has been a huge driving force behind the scenes for vast change within the club, or else, by what he was saying towards the end of last season, he wouldn’t have signed a multi-year deal and wouldn’t be here now.
What Ince has got wrong
There are two sides to every coin as they say, and this coin is no different. To say Ince’s reign as manager hasn’t been all sunshines and rainbows would be a criminal understatement.
Yes, he has made us a harder team to beat and yes, none of us expected to be the position we’re in now back in August. However, it’s fair to say that Ince has his limitations as a manager.
He is by no means a tactician and the problem with the way he sets the team up is that when it’s bad, it’s really bad. Even when when we win, it’s not a pretty watch. Although you can brush questionable performances off when you’re winning (as we were at the start of the season), it becomes too hard to ignore when you’re not.
An optimist would say Ince’s style of football (if you can call it that) is direct and compact. A pessimist - or perhaps a realist - would say that it’s just not very good. Ince prides himself on the aforementioned fight, aggression and spirit. However, it could be suggested that those are just the basics of a football team. And perhaps Ince, although he’s done well to get the team to this point, doesn’t have the managerial capabilities to coach anything other than the bare basics.
There have been plenty of times when starting lineups have baffled, substitution decisions (or the lack of for that matter) have frustrated and his post-march comments have bamboozled.
I have this vision of Ince putting the name of every player into a hat (apart from Joe Lumley, Andy Carroll, Tom Ince and Jeff Hendrick) and picking them out at random 10 minutes before each game to choose his starting lineup.
The lack of accountability is frustrating also. We’re pretty used to managers making excuses and odd comments in interviews - remember when Paunovic said we ‘played well apart from the four goals’ in last season’s 4-0 loss to QPR? But I think Ince has taken it to the next level. This is a guy who questioned the roles of physios when he first arrived at the club.
Ultimately, in my opinion, Ince did a great job last season. He kept us in the league which is what he was employed to do - as bizarre as the appointment was.
However, his limitations have really come to light in recent weeks. He instilled the basics into us, made us a team that will fight for 90 minutes and not give up. But I just don’t think he has the ability to take us forward long term.
The work he has done off the pitch cannot be ignored and that’s probably keeping some fans on his side at this point. He has been a huge part in us finally starting to sort ourselves out away from the pitch. And for that we should always be grateful, because we were a club going in only one direction - downwards.