Changing of the Guard

Last night the Milan derby was broadcast in the UK on ESPN. It is one of the great fixtures of any domestic calendar, and one of the analysts, Paul Ince, was perfectly correct when talking about the stunning atmosphere – the fireworks, the overcrowding in the stands, the lighting as the teams come out, and the intensity both on and off the pitch, live long in the memory of anyone who has ever attended that local derby in northern Italy.

The game itself may have not lived up expectations and was settled by a solitary goal by Diego Milito, one of a number of World Class players that always seem to be on show in these games, for the away side on the night, Internationale. It was a scoreline that would have pleased their former player, Ince, who thankfully was back in a studio in London, rather then a sitting duck giving his analysis pitchside in front of what would have been a baying Curva Sud.

Ince, who made no secret of his allegiances when insightfully talking about the occasion, spoke as someone who immersed himself in the city and local culture during his time there, committed to his club, as he was to his country. He was vital to England’s success in Euro’96 and subsequent qualification to the 1998 World Cup, screening the defence, contributing to several important goals in both qualifiers and tournaments, and memorably leading the team to an excellent decisive draw in Rome.

As a player he played under managers including Sir Alex Ferguson, Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle, and took his own career in management by storm, saving Macclesfield from a seemingly inevitable relegation out of the Football League, before winning both silverware and promotion in his first spell at MK Dons.

He then got his first, and so far only job as a Premier League Manager, yet after just his first competitive game as manager at Blackburn Rovers, a 2-1 victory away at Everton on the opening day of the season, he was already being reported in that afternoon’s match day radio reports as a manager under pressure – surely a first for a manager with 100% record at a club. Sixteen games later he was sacked, as the Blackburn fans turned on him. The recent concerted campaign against Steve Keen, and by proxy, the Venky’s, has been vitriolic and well organised. Ince’s experience shows that the Venky’s weren’t the first to be made to feel as welcome as Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs while trying to do a job at Blackburn.

Ince’s managerial career hasn’t recovered yet, with short unsuccessful spells in a return to MK Dons and the financially troubled Notts County. For a man with such a wealth of experience and dedication to the game, it seems a waste he is out of work. A few league clubs have reportedly shown interest in him this weekend, and at the very least it is surprising he doesn’t get more work as a pundit.

As Brendon Rogers reminded the BBC last night, there is a lot of lazy punditry around from the regulars. Rogers told Match of the Day 2 viewers he had seen highly paid established pundits criticise his team without even knowing the names of the players they are speaking about. This knowledge gap is no surprise to anyone who has seen reputed international players discussed on Match of the Day refereed to as unknowns when they first come to the Premier League, so insular and complacent is the thinking.

Less then two months ago Swansea suffered their only home defeat this season against Manchester United by a solitary goal in a game that was also broadcast live on ESPN. Despite the result, Swansea played a progressive passing game, and looked good. Yet later that night Match of the Day’s experts told the nation that they couldn’t play that style of football in the Premier League and survive. But they have continued to play a game founded on passing and movement, including yesterday, where they out played, out passed and out fought Arsenal, with a win that took them up in to the top half of the table. There is a changing of the guard in the Premier League, and closed shops on Match of the Day, and elsewhere, won’t last forever.

MG