The length of time Roy Keane spent in Paul Ince’s office at Ewood Park two weeks ago – an hour and a half, and even then Ince had to kick him out – suggests the erstwhile Sunderland manager had things on his mind, though he offered his former team-mate no inkling of the events which were about to unravel.
Now Ince is the man peering over the edge of the managerial gangplank, with no wins in nine as Liverpool arrive at Ewood today, and he had his own ideas yesterday about why, as he sees it, people want the same outcome for him as for Keane. “I believe there are people out to get us,” Ince said. “People envy us and don't want us to succeed. They look at me and me and Keaney and look back to our Manchester United days and think we are snarling, horrible people. But we are not like that. We are nice guys, family men. It doesn't bother me at all but I want people is to understand the hard facts, and most just keep haranguing two young managers who are trying to make their way in football.”
There is at least one flaw to his thesis, of course. No-one was out to get Keane, who walked long before he would have been pushed. But Ince is a more mellow and reasonable character than the player of old, who scared the life out of a callow, young Steven Gerrard at Melwood when he threw him the keys to his Audi and ordered him to sort out his shopping list “plus ten ciggies.” That Paul Ince would not, as he did yesterday, offer a frank and intelligent discussion of his future, having spent most of Thursday listening to talk of his imminent demise. The local ITV vox pop on “Is Incey good enough for the job?” as he described it, accompanied his dinner that evening. “My wife had it on,” Ince said, with a grimace.
Such is the life of a 21st century Premier League manager and Ince was certainly talking sense when he described the lack of time for young managers like himself and Keane to grow into their roles. “We were moaning that we were going outside our country to find an England coach,” Ince said. “While [Fabio] Capello has done a fantastic job, he will be judged on what happens in the World Cup. It's important that the likes of myself, [Gareth] Southgate and [Tony] Adams get that grounding in the Premier League and that experience. I'd like to think the next England manager will be English. I'm not saying it will be me but we want it to be English. So why people are clamouring for younger managers to get sacked baffles me.”
Ince also sees a need for the new generation to stick together in a world where the experienced men are the ones with the protection. “It just winds me up when every day there is something about Blackburn, Blackburn, Blackburn, Sunderland, Sunderland, Sunderland, ‘jobs on the line'. Yet Joe Kinnear is two points away from me and he is there until the end of the season. No one mentions Joe Kinnear or Harry Redknapp. It's `Ince. Keane'. I'm not saying we don't talk to the old ones, because you need the older ones for advice. But the young ones [should] stick together.”
Kinnear might reasonably counter that he has picked up 11 points from nine games since taking over at Newcastle, Ince three from nine in the same period, but even as the Blackburn boss spoke, one of the ‘old ones’ was echoing his main sentiment, a short drive down the M61. "It's getting shorter and shorter, the lifespan of a manager at a club," said Sir Alex Ferguson. “They can move on of course to other jobs and challenges, but it's a very precarious industry. I think it's to do with the emotions in the game. It's greater than ever and crowd participation has increased in terms of volatility. I hope Paul gets time.”
The statistics are against him. The latest Warwick Business School Football Management Trends report shows the average tenure of managers to be 1.53 years against 3.12 years when the Premier League was formed 16 years ago. Keane – who lasted two years and four months at Sunderland - is among a growing number of managers who resign and walk out of football, virtually unheard of in 1992 but in double figures for the first time in the 2006/7 and 2007/8 seasons. The loneliness kills for many individuals in Ince and Keane’s boat, said Warwick’s Dr Susan Bridgewater, who has had some Premier League managers she has tutored on the phone to her, drifting into talk about tactics. “It’s surprised me - 4-4-3’s hardly my thing, but there is noone else to talk to,” said Dr Bridgewater.
Ferguson ascribes all this uncertainty to the “X-Factor society” which puts managers up there just so they can be knocked down. But it is the financial apocalypse attached to relegation which has most to do with it. Ince declare acidly yesterday that he is working on the fraction of the budget of Kinnear - “He is only two points above us. Kinnear has a team worth £70m. Big difference” – but while he believes his chairman, John Williams, “has to go to Jersey and see what money we have” for January everyone knows the answer. Not very much. Rovers simply need someone who can make do with what they've got.
Ince justifiably asserted that his midfield has been decimated – three of the four first choice out injured – and there are also doubts about Roque Santa Cruz and Brett Emerton today. But one brutal statistic cuts through all the ifs and buts and desires for youth to prevail in management. Of the eight teams who, like the current Blackburn side, went nine games without a win last season, five sacked their managers and survived. Of the three (Derby, Reading and Middlesbrough) stuck with the one they had got, two perished.