The nepotism debate is certainly one that has gained significant traction in recent years. Tarnishing an array of industries, its influence is one that continues to limit opportunity. But how could a problem so intrinsically linked with Hollywood weave its way into the identity of Reading Football Club, I hear you ask?
Prior to the World Cup, there was little debate surrounding Reading’s most influential player this season. The catalyst to any form of attacking threat for Reading lay exclusively with Tom Ince. His early importance was undeniable, yet his levels have waned in recent months - a fact that both he and his father are perhaps not keen to admit.
A drop in performance, a rise in tensions and the issue of a father-son relationship at a football club becomes more of a talking point than it ever was. Not many will truly know the conversations behind the scenes and how the relationship between Thomas and Paul Ince operates. If the antics against Hull City are anything to go by, it would be bold to say that a familial relationship truly benefits a side entangled in a relegation battle.
Could make a thread from this game alone how moody tom ince actually is. Holmes clearly having a word with gaffer about his son #readingfc pic.twitter.com/6tCvv1XeS9— Alex (@Pickettlickett) March 18, 2023
To me, the performance against Hull represented how I’ve felt about the side and club in general for most of the season: amateurish. Whether this be through performance or team selection, a game characterised by finger-pointing, arm-waving and a centre-back playing on the left wing is representative of the issues that have plagued Reading all season. Tied with a dreary mood at the SCL, Reading looked like a side heading one way.
Paul Ince has complained about a lack of creativity in the side, deeming Tom Ince as the only solution to these creative shortages. The stubbornness of the manager certainly hasn’t aided these issues. While a divisive character, the rumoured exclusion of Ovie Ejaria has been totally mystifying.
The manager may deem him a bad egg, but this is a squad devoid of any confidence with a football in attacking areas. Cesare Casadei has offered an improvement in recent weeks, but the absence of Ejaria, and Lucas Joao for the most part, is reflective of not only poor man management, but also perhaps the protection of Tom Ince, from other so-called ‘star players’.
The persistent selection of Tom Ince is not an exclusive case though. The continued favouring of ‘great professionals’ over the technically sound has been a constant frustration of mine and has hindered progression all season. If these experienced pros were delivering each week, then I would have no qualms. The performances of Jeff Hendrick, Andy Yiadom and Andy Carroll, however, have done little to justify their selection and are indicative of continued favouritism.
One tweet from the weekend stood out to me in which the situation with Tom Ince was compared to the Cristiano Ronaldo situation at Manchester United. While perspective is required when assessing both, like Ince, Ronaldo - while statistically strong - dented the squad unity at United. For me, Ince’s conduct is more rooted in plain frustration, rather than a feeling that he should be playing at a higher level. While not excusing Ince’s recent behaviour, I do feel he doesn’t truly resent his teammates on a professional level.
So, can nepotism ever work within a footballing environment? For me, no. If the manager picking their child at a local, grassroots level causes issues, how is a similar situation not going to cause major problems in the professional game? The Maldini, Redknapp and Zidane families have all failed when working together, so what makes the Inces any different?
The role Tom Ince undertook in the latter stages of last season saw him at his best. He was one cog in a fully functioning team of excellent Championship-level players. A shift into the limelight has negatively impacted Reading this season, hindering the development of youth in attacking areas and reinforcing the nepotism at play.
It will be interesting to watch how Tom Ince’s performance levels change with the likely departure of his father. For me it will only be of benefit. A reduction in pressure, enhanced opportunities for others, and a renewed sense of balance throughout the squad.