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Opinion: The Toxic Tenure of Paul Ince

Paul Ince might guide Reading to survival but, for Calum Egan, his personality and painful tactics have made him so sackable.

Cardiff City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

When news broke last February that Paul Ince was replacing Veljko Paunovic, my first thought was “how have Reading appointed Match of the Day’s 17th-choice pundit?”. Outranked by the Danny Murphys, Dion Dublins and Robbie Savages of the TV world, this is a man whose egoistical comments stood out even among ex-pros. Let alone the fact that Ince had not managed for over eight years.

Clearly, Reading agreed – his announcement was hidden at the foot of Paunovic’s departure article like a walnut in a Christmas stocking. That walnut has grown and grown, enveloping the club in its self-absorbed shadow. The joy has been sucked from Reading Football Club.

For a manager on track to achieve his one remit – survival – it is impressive that Ince has made himself so sackable. Tell any fan in July that Reading would be 12 points clear of relegation midway through March and they would be delighted. Every Championship prediction had Reading favourites for relegation for good reasons. Survival would be a fantastic achievement. An achievement better celebrated with the sacking of Paul ‘The Guvnor’ Ince.

This is the longest managerial spell of Paul Ince’s career. It is easy to see why. Some might label his tactics ‘siege mentality’. Some might call them toxic. Either way, they are a short-termist solution. If Reading survive, the job next season will be long-term club building. Ince will have succeeded in surviving, but you don’t ask the firefighters to redecorate your house after they extinguish the flames.

The home record might be good, but the style of football is driving fans away. Never have so many people threatened to not buy a season ticket next year. Reading have had brilliant managers and terrible managers, but never this personally offensive.

Reading v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

On the pitch, Reading are a defensive team which is not very good at defending. 55 goals conceded is the second-worst record in the league. Not for the lack of trying, however, given the preference for a 5-3-2 formation, often with centre-backs at wing-back/midfield and defensive profiles chosen across the middle three.

Every few games, Reading get absolutely pumped just to reinforce the defensive incompetence. 5-0 at Middlesbrough was the most recent, but 4-0 at Stoke City was mere weeks before. It does not have to be a good team either: just the 7 (SEVEN) first-half goals conceded at Rotherham United and Birmingham City. Like a quirky Championship version of Russian Roulette, but there is more than one bullet loaded and getting shot would be less painful than a seven-hour roundtrip to Yorkshire to get mullered by the Millers.

Tactically, the ineptitude is unprecedented. There are no discernible patterns of play beyond aiming for Big Andy. We travel to places like Middlesbrough and watch innovative minds like Michael Carrick carve pretty patterns on the ball.

Saying Reading have poor possession ideas would be a lie, for there are no ideas. Ince and Rae have claimed they cannot coach decision-making and do not coach set-pieces. You wonder what they do coach. Reading fans are paying for the privilege of watching football that would be dated in the 80s.

Being a bad football team is one thing, but being cowardly is infinitely worse. You can forgive good intentions with poor execution, yet these 1-0 defeats are the true crime. Take Cardiff City/Sunderland (A): each game is 0-0 for 80+ minutes. At no point does Ince make progressive changes to win the match. At no point does the Reading manager take a risk to win the game.

If you set-up to draw 0-0, cowardly clinging on for a solitary point, you simply cannot complain when the only attacking team eventually scores. Unforgivable levels of footballing vandalism and offensive to any fans who attend. Time and time again Reading lose these tight games, except the Guvnor is delighted because we ‘competed’. The mentality of a Scream movie victim – if you keep only running away from the killer, they will eventually stab you. Reading have been stabbed countless times this season.

Cardiff City v Reading - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Cardiff City FC/Getty Images

Yet Ince does complain. All the time. He blames referees, his players, the fixture schedule, or anything he can think of. Against Millwall, Reading had 2 (TWO) shots and created 0.07 xG, but the referee and a single defensive mistake are the problem?

@cabin__13 has made a great Twitter thread illuminating the sheer volume of Ince’s comments about officials. Sure, referees make mistakes, but that hurts every team. To blame them so often is, like everything Ince does, an exercise in blame avoidance. There is a regular segment on the Reading Between The Lines podcast entitled ‘PR Paul’, because every press conference is littered with excuses.

When he is not moaning, he is feuding with anyone in sight. A reporter in Sunderland, Erik Ten Hag, Tim Dellor: no-one is safe from the Guvnor’s fragile ego. A lot of the great managers have prickly personalities. Fighting is a major part of the Jose Mourinho appeal. Ince’s issue is that he lacks the charisma or the track record to come across as anything other than pathetic.

His behaviour is embarrassing for Reading fans. This man had the audacity to suggest Reading players were focused on the Manchester United fixture in the build-up to the 4-0 at Stoke, when, in the build-up to Old Trafford, our manager gave no fewer than two exclusive newspaper interviews and made an appearance on BBC One.

Speaking of his players, we cannot forget Ince’s favourites: Naby Sarr, Andy Carroll, Thomas Ince and Jeff Hendrick. All players who can get away with murder and retain their places for the next game. Yakou Meite, Lucas Joao, Amadou Mbengue, Nesta Guiness-Walker and more have all been frozen out for large periods of the season following mistakes.

Meite missed a penalty versus Swansea and barely saw the pitch again before his injury. Mbengue went from key player to sixth-choice centre-back following the collapse in Birmingham. Yet, Carroll and Sarr put in stinkers week after week. The selective meritocracy is maddening.

Thomas Ince is another one. Granted, he has played well for much of the season. Though, no matter his performance levels, he will almost never be subbed. He follows in the footsteps of his father – shouting at referees and his teammates alike. Nepotism enabling petulance.

Every fan has unconditional support for the club. As fans, we want to believe our manager is the best around. Tribalism demands that. Of course, they change often, but each man gets a chance to prove themselves. Paul Ince has proved himself to be a Dementor of a football manager – sucking the souls of fans at the expense of his ego. Every performance dulls excitement, every press conference provokes anger, every day ousts the joy of being a Reading fan. There is no point in prolonging this pain. Just get him gone.