John Williams, the Blackburn Rovers chief executive, last night said the club's model of going for young and unproven managers could work once again after appointing Paul Ince on a three-year-contract and making him the first black British Premier League manager.
Williams said his and Ince's paths had never crossed before the departure earlier this month to Manchester City of Mark Hughes, whom Williams already knew as a former Rovers player before hiring him as manager. But he is convinced that Ince, a highly-driven individual who has reached the top flight as a manager 15 years after becoming the first black player to captain England, can succeed despite his inexperience.
"I'm obviously well aware of his record and achievements," said Williams, who will officially unveil Ince as manager tomorrow. "It follows a Rovers model and the board believe the model was the right one. It's going to be a risk whoever you appoint. But I believe that Paul will do a very good job for us."
Williams formally offered Ince the job yesterday, less than 48 hours after the Premier League had sanctioned him to manage in the top flight subject to his starting work on his Uefa Pro Licence qualification within two years. The former Manchester United midfielder was said to have reacted with "excitement" to the offer. "He's really up for it and is very hungry," Williams said.
Reaction to Ince's appointment among Rovers supporters was less enthusiastic than the response to the prospect of the club hiring Alan Shearer, Williams's first choice. But there is a sense among the club's fans that Ince can deliver. Williams will he hoping that such a high-profile appointment can maintain attendances at Ewood Park and, more immediately, persuade David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz to stay at the club.
Though there seemed to be a short period of uncertainty after Shearer unexpectedly decided that he was unwilling to leave his television work with the BBC for the forbidding task of maintaining Hughes' record at Rovers, Ince became the prime candidate soon after. Sam Allardyce, the former Bolton and Newcastle manager, who was also interviewed along with Steve McClaren, would have been a safer prospect, though an unpopular one with fans.
Ince took up his first managerial post at Macclesfield Town a mere 20 months ago, but his record since then has been impressive. Macclesfield were 11 points adrift at the bottom of League Two when he took over in late October 2006 but Ince secured survival on the last day of the season. In 2007-08 he guided MK Dons to the League Two title and the Johnstone's Paints Trophy, picking up three manager of the month awards on the way.
Ince often spoke to Roy Keane during that tough first season at Macclesfield and their old manager at Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, will have been delighted yesterday at an appointment which takes the number of his former players currently managing in the Premier League to four, including Steve Bruce at Wigan, Keane at Sunderland and Hughes at Manchester City. Ferguson, always assiduously aware of such details, can also list Gordon Strachan (Coventry) and Alex McLeish (Birmingham) as his other old boys who have managed in the top flight.
Though Ince has much ground to make up on the coaching side – he is understood to lack both the B and A licences – his record in the lower leagues meant he was linked with two Premier League jobs last season, Derby and Wigan
Mindful of Rovers' interest, Ince had distanced himself from the Leicester vacancy – now filled by Nigel Pearson – and Williams has been steadily moving towards approaching him, informally sounding out the Premier League about the issue of coaching badges .
The League gave careful consideration to Rovers' approach but a rejection would have struck a particularly unfortunate note considering the deeper significance of Ince's appointment. Though Jean Tigana, at Fulham, and Ruud Gullit, with Chelsea and Newcastle, have managed in the Premier League, the appointment of a black manager who is English to such a position is a significant one.
Ince is expected to take his experienced assistant Ray Mathias with him to Ewood Park. The former Tranmere and Wigan manager worked alongside him at both Macclesfield and Mk Dons.
As expected, MK Dons did not stand in Ince's way yesterday. "We cannot deny Paul the deserved opportunity to work in the greatest League in the world," the club said in a statement.