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Paul Ince interview: Manchester United, Liverpool, West Ham, Wolves, Middlesbrough

05 Jul | BY Guy Giles | MIN READ TIME |
Paul Ince interview: Manchester United, Liverpool, West Ham, Wolves, Middlesbrough

The two-time Premier League winner discusses the state of play at his former clubs, with the summer transfer window well underway and a new season fast approaching.

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What do you make of Manchester United signing Mason Mount?

I think it’s a great bit of business for Manchester United. He’s a very good player. He can create, he’s energetic, and technically he’s very, very good.

He went through a bad patch of form last season, like we all do, and it looked he lost a little bit of confidence. He didn’t seem to be getting a lot of game time under Graham Potter, and he went from being a regular for England and Chelsea to a bit-part role. But he’s still a very talented player.

I think this is the right move for him, he needs a fresh start. He needed to go to somewhere he’s going to get game time, because at this age, he needs to be playing regular football. There’s a lot of players who are happy just to sit on the bench and take their money, but Mason, he wants to play football.

It’s going to be interesting to see where Ten Hag sees him playing, because he’s a bit like Eriksen. I think they’ll probably share that role. Bruno Fernandes likes to go forward and you’d think he’ll play most games. Can he play on the left-hand side and play Rashford up top? The thing about Mount is that he’s very flexible in the roles that he can play.

Where else do you think United needed to strengthen this summer?

They’ve got to be careful, because you have to remember they’re concerned about FFP at the moment, and £60m of their budget has just gone on Mason Mount. There’s not a lot of business they can do, so they’ve got to be really astute with their signings.

Harry Kane’s name keeps getting brandished about. Kane’s been absolutely unbelievable for Tottenham. He’s a world-class player and has proved it year in and year out. Whether Daniel Levy would let him go to a rival club like Manchester United, I’m not sure. I know there’s a lot of talk about Bayern Munich. These things only happen when the club has spoken to the agent, so there’s obviously been some kind of interest for Bayern to keep pursuing him.

For me, if Kane was to leave – and you don’t like to talk about players while they’re still at another football club – but any money left at Manchester United would go straight on him, without a doubt. If you can get Harry Kane, that makes them serious challengers next year. They definitely need a striker, that’s for sure.

They also need another midfield player. Fred might be leaving, Scott McTominay’s going to want more game time. I look at Casemiro, Fernandes, Christian Eriksen, great players that they are, they’re still crying out for that one who’s got the legs. Basically, a younger version of Casemiro, which isn’t going to be cheap.

If you look at the players that Brighton have bought like Yves Bissouma and Moises Caicedo, you can pick up these nuggets. So, the recruitment’s got to be really good, especially when you haven’t got as much money at your disposal than you would normally have.

Who would you bring in as that midfield player?

Obviously, there’s a lot of talk about Caicedo. I like Franck Kessie at Barcelona. He’s not getting enough game time.

There’s also talk about Thomas Partey leaving Arsenal. You think about the first six months of the season, Partey was absolutely fantastic. Jorginho came in and, for some reason, he stopped getting games. That’s when Arsenal started losing and drawing games. I’d be looking at someone like him or Kessie.

What would you make of a move for Andre Onana?

First and foremost, he’s a fantastic keeper. He’s young, he’s got loads of potential, he’s great with his feet.

A lot depends on what the situation is with David De Gea. Obviously, his contract is finished and there’s ongoing talks. I presume that De Gea will be saying, “Listen, if I’m going to sign then I need to be the No. 1.”

But if they’re going to cut his wages and he doesn’t agree to terms, I think Onana will be the next one to come in. The ball’s in De Gea’s court. He knows he’s going to have to take a reduction in his wages, and if he does that, I can see him back between the sticks come the start of the season.

What are your thoughts on Harry Maguire’s future at Manchester United?

You’ve got to feel sorry for Harry. Things haven’t gone his way over the past two years. Even the England fans have been having a pop at him, and I think it’s unfair.

For me, he’s always played well for England, and most of time he’s performed well for Manchester United. He just went through that bad spell where he got sent off a couple of times, and that was it.

You’ve got to remember, he’s the captain of Manchester United, and who wants to leave when you’re captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world?

But if Erik ten Hag is prepared to let Harry go, I think he needs a fresh start. At his age, Harry’s going to  want to play football week in and week out, so he’s got to look for pastures new.

No matter how well he plays for England, he needs to be playing consistent football at a Premier League level. He knows that, with the competition coming up for England places.

He’s a quality player, he’s a leader, and he needs to be playing consistent football.

Where did it go wrong for Liverpool last season? And where do they need to improve?

If you go back to when Jurgen Klopp first came in, that first year they struggled and people were doubting him, and then he goes on and wins the Champions League.  And when you look at that team that started winning trophies, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, they were unplayable.

But this team have been fighting Manchester City for last four years. They’ve lost the title twice by one point. Think about what that takes out of a player, what that takes out of a team. You can’t keep producing at that level forever. So, this is a transitional period for Jurgen.

You have to look at Sir Alex Ferguson and the way he transitioned his teams. He’d win trophies, he might have a little low for one season and then he built again. That’s what Klopp’s trying to do now.

Losing Mane to Bayern Munich was a big loss for them. Luis Diaz was out for most of the season last year, Darwin Nunez is still finding feet. Diogo Jota’s been out injured but when he’s played, he’s looked good. From that point of view, the front three, front four hasn’t really had that time to click.

I think bringing in Alexis Mac Allister was a great bit of business. He’s a very, very good player. And obviously Dominik Szoboszlai from Leipzig. He’s only young but he’s a wonderful player, he’s captain of his country and he’s a very good signing. There’s a lot of potential there.

But when you’ve got so many injuries, it does have an effect. It really does, and people don’t really understand that. Look at how well Diaz did when he first came in, he was electrifying.

They can’t keep relying on Salah. I’d like them to look at someone else for that right-hand side. Salah plays more or less every game. It’s unbelievable what he puts into the game, but he’s done it for five, six years. It’d be nice to get him a couple of game’s rest and bring somebody else in who could do the business.

I think they’ll be a lot stronger next year.

Where do you see Trent Alexander-Arnold’s future – in defence or midfield?

It’s funny how football can change. I look at where Trent’s playing now and what he’s doing for Liverpool, and we should be thanking Pep Guardiola. He was the one who started playing full-backs and centre-halves in midfield. Now everyone’s trying to do it, and it just shows his genius.

Trent is now getting a position in the England midfield, which looks pretty strange to me. I remember two seasons ago, for the last 15 games of the season, Trent was the best right-back in the world. He was controlling games, his passing is obviously exceptional.

People have always questioned his defending, but the way full-backs play nowadays, it’s not about defending. It’s about what you can do attacking-wise, and Trent’s always been brilliant at that.

Have we stumbled upon something? It’s too early to tell. If you look at the games that England played, they weren’t tough games, they were typical qualifying games where you can do it at one pace.

Does Southgate see that as his regular position? I don’t know. And then you’d have to think about whose place he’s going to take in midfield.

How pleased were you to see West Ham win the Europa Conference League?

I was buzzing, absolutely buzzing. Being a West Ham boy, starting my career at West Ham, it was great to see. It really was.

I think David Moyes deserves a lot of credit. You think about people calling for his head during the season and you’ve got to hold your hands up to Moyes and the owners. They didn’t bend to the pressure they were getting externally. They stuck with him, and he’s rewarded them and the fans with a European trophy.

How big of a loss is Declan Rice?

It’s always a big loss when you lose your main man, your captain, and even more so at such a young age. But I think it’s something he had to do.

I see some similarities in myself being at West Ham and Manchester United came calling. You’ve got to want to try yourself at the next level. That’s not being disrespectful to West Ham. For me, United was the next level and when they come calling it’s hard to say no.

Declan has done all he can do at West Ham. Obviously, it’s going to hurt him to leave, but he needs to go to the next level and see if he can perform. I believe he can.

It’s going to leave a massive hole in the West Ham midfield but I’m sure David Moyes and the club would have planned for this because they knew that this was his last season.

They need to bring in a striker, we’ve been saying that for ages. Gianluca Scamacca came in and hasn’t really hit the ground running, Michail Antonio, for how great he is, he’s not natural striker. They need to bring in someone who’s going to score them goals.

What have you made of Michael Carrick’s impact at Middlesbrough?

I love Carrick. He’s a great bloke, very humble.

It’s always difficult in the Championship, it’s such a tough league. To come in where they were – they were never going to go down because of the squad they had – but the way he took them from that perilous position to the play-offs was unbelievable.

In the two up front, Cameron Archer and Chuba Akpom, they had some quality players who will score you goals. Everything boils down to scoring goals. If you’ve got players who can score you goals, you’re going to be a very successful team.

What Michael will be thinking now is that he needs to build on this because obviously the expectations are higher after what he achieved last season. He knows that and he can deal with that. He played for Manchester United so he can deal with any expectation and pressure.

He’s also working with one of the best owners in football in Steve Gibson. Credit to Steve, because he likes English managers, he always gives them a chance. That’s something that is probably missed by a lot of people. And he spends his money on the team.

He will give Carrick the time that he needs to build a team to hopefully get back into the Premier League, where I’d love to see Middlesbrough.

How important was it for Wolves to keep hold of Julen Lopetegui?

He’s a world class manager. We’ve seen what he’s done in Spain. When you get managers of that level, you have to be patient.

Over the last couple of years, when you think about all the money that’s been spent, the expectations of the fans are going to get higher. But they have to give him time.

How do you see next season going for Wolves?

I think this year is going to be tough for Wolves, they’ve got a lot of rebuilding to do. Obviously, the main man Ruben Neves has gone. Nathan Collins is off to Brentford, Max Kilman could be going to Napoli. That’s two young centre-halfs they’ve lost. Conor Coady’s going to Leicester, Joao Moutinho’s getting on a bit.

Over the last four or five years, they’ve brought in a lot of Portuguese players. What worried me last season was whether those players would be ready to fight to stay in the league. They’d have been thinking they’re coming to Wolves to challenge for European places, and that obviously didn’t happen.

So, I’m not sure whether they’re going to change the way they do things, but there’s definitely going to have to be a big rebuild.

Do you think they should bring Fabio Silva back into the fold after his successful spell out on loan last season?

I remember when he first came to Wolves, I did a game for Sky, and I wasn’t really sure what he was. I wasn’t sure whether he was a striker, whether he was a No. 10, but I did realise that he wasn’t ready to play in the Premier League.

I’m sure Lopetegui will be looking at everyone. He hasn’t even seen him yet because obviously he wasn’t here when Silva was sent out on loan, but I’m sure he’ll be thinking about this lad.

He’s certainly got talent. You don’t spend that money on someone who hasn’t got talent, and hopefully he proves it this year. He’s two years older, a bit more experienced. If you’re scoring goals, you’ve got a chance of playing in the team, that’s for sure.

What are your thoughts on the recent exodus of players to Saudi Arabia?

Some of it I get, and some of it I don’t.

When you talk about Cristiano Ronaldo going to Saudi, I get that. He’s coming to the end of his career, he’s going for a payday, he’s going to try and promote the Saudi league. I understand that.

But when you see the kind of players that are going now, like Ruben Neves, who’s in his prime, it’s sad to see. I get that football changes and money has changed football, but I wanted to win titles, play in FA Cup finals, play in the Champions League. That was it for me, that’s what I wanted to do. You’d think someone like Neves would want to do that.

It’s like what we saw with China six, seven years ago when Oscar went there, Hulk went there, just for the financial gain. If you look at China now, that’s gone, that’s all died down now. Is this going to be a phase? I’m not sure, because Saudi have got so much money.

We’ve got to keep an eye on it as the Premier League. We’ve got to be wary of what’s going on. The Premier League is the biggest brand in the world when it comes to football, so we have to keep an eye on the situation. We can’t allow clubs or countries to come in and just buy all the best players. There has to be some kind of integrity within our sport.

Good luck to the Saudis, they’re having a go. Players are going out there just for financial gain, and sometimes you can’t blame them. They’ve got families, they’ve got to think about the future. It’s a hell of a lot of money.

If someone’s going to offer you £15million pounds a year, it’s hard to say no, no matter what age you are or where you are in your career. But someone like Neves, you can do that in three or four years. If I was him, I’d try and win titles for the next two, three years and if the Saudi league is still there after that then I’d do it then. That’s the one that disappoints me, Neves, but good luck to them all.

Guy Giles

Guy Giles

Sports writer who produces regular football and cricket tips, while also covering a range of other sports.

Guy Giles

Guy Giles

Sports writer who produces regular football and cricket tips, while also covering a range of other sports.