When you’re an academy prospect at one of the biggest clubs in the country, like Tom Ince once was at Liverpool, you would have thought the only way that the son of ex-England captain Paul, should be looking, was up. But instead, Ince had eyes firmly fixed downwards, or more specifically, at the notion of dropping down a league. But don’t let that befit his talents, or ambitions, for that matter.
Indeed, more than a few eyebrows were raised when Ince decided to depart Anfield to join Ian Holloway’s Blackpool, in the August of last year. Ince, although not being quite ready for the first team, was considered a highly talented asset by the Liverpool coaching staff. Such was their valuation of Ince, that Liverpool had laid down a three-year contract offer, in an effort to persuade him to stay in the red half of Merseyside.
Although Ince subsequently shunned the contract offer, and made a beeline for Bloomfield Road, after making just the one appearance for Liverpool in the League Cup against Northampton Town. But Ince didn’t leave Anfield in the manner that many would associate with a fledging academy prospect in today’s age. Ince didn’t leave under the same financial cloud as Manchester United’s Ezekiel Fryers or with the stinking attitude of Ravel Morrison. For Ince, simply wanted to go and play football.
And from what we’ve seen over the past twelve months, there can be absolutely no doubt that he has been vindicated in making such a tough decision. Because however much the England Under-21 star is now reaping the rewards of his move, make no mistake; it took real courage to turn away from the overtures of such a massive club.
A spell on loan to Notts County during his time with Liverpool ensured that Ince was hardly in any doubt as to what he could expect at Bloomfield Road and although the Seasiders are hardly a third-world club, it’s a whole world away from a young player who’d known nothing else but life up at Anfield. From the amount of coaching staff to the size of the facilities, it must be hard for a young player to turn away from that. But in his own words, the time was simply right.
Speaking earlier on this summer, Ince said:
“I was at Liverpool for eight years and that was a very long time as a kid. I could have stayed at Liverpool for three more years, but I felt the time was right to play in the real world,” he explained to The Independent.
“Fortunately a club like Blackpool have given me that opportunity. They have made me feel welcome and given me the opportunity.”
And oh how he’s taken that opportunity. Under the tutorship of Ian Hollyway and his penchant for playing football the way it should be played, Ince has gone from strength to strength at Blackpool. After making his one aforementioned appearance for Liverpool and a handful on loan at Notts County, Ince turned out 41 times in all competitions last season; a statistic that any young player in his position should be standing up and taking notice off.
And it’s been in that game time, that Ince has really been able to exhibit his stunning, if not still a little raw, set of talents. A left-winger by trade, after finding his feet in Holloway’s side last season, he became a consistent and potent attacking outlet on Blackpool’s left side but he also showed versatility, too. Out of the mould of a modern day winger, Ince – who can also play just off the frontman – has a lot more in his locker than just a half-decent delivery.
Tricky, pacy, technically assured with a real eye for goal, Ince has carried on from where he left off last term and really kicked on. With six goals in six appearances, Holloway has been happy to let him off the leash and it’s paid Blackpool massive dividends so far. So much so, a mooted switch to Manchester United in January is said to be more than simply paper talk.
Ince owes Holloway a great deal for the faith shown in him and his willingness to push him forward, but the youngster has his own attitude to thank, as much as anyone else. Time and time again we see youngsters spend an eternity in the youth and reserve ranks, seemingly happy to play a bit part role for a big Premier League club, without actually acquiring any game time. Nothing can ever substitute for long, hard, minutes on the pitch and in moving to Blackpool, Ince put his destiny into his own hands.
No one will know how long Ince would have had to wait before getting his shot in the Liverpool first team. Given Brendan Rodgers’ penchant for youth, if Ince had waited a year, who knows what opportunity he might have had. But time is short in football and memories shorter. He wanted to play consistent, regular football and in showing no fear by dropping down to The Championship, he should have debunked any urban myths surrounding young players’ prospects in that league.
The cream will always rise to the top; if young players are finding a route to the first team near on impossible at a Premier League club, they should follow Ince’s lead and seek out a matching club in English football’s second tier. Because no matter how talented you may be, if you’re not playing enough regular first-team football, the necessary development and subsequent success, might not ever come.
Tom Ince is a special talent and the chances are his abilities may have eventually shone through at whichever club he chose to ply his trade. But if does go on to one day make a profound impact in the Premier League, it will be perhaps his bravery to leave Liverpool, as much as his quicksilver feet, that will deserve the credit.
What do you think about Tom Ince’s decision to leave Liverpool? Has he set an example to players of his age in a similar position? Let me know on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think.