It’s been a mesmeric 18 months for the 21-year-old since he first departed Liverpool in the search for first-team football and while his future may have felt somewhat cloudy following his decision to leave the then-Kenny Dalglish led side, there can be doubts of the direction the youngster’s career is destined to head.
Following a stunning spell at Blackpool – where he’s now playing under the stewardship of his father, Paul – in which he’s scored 24 goals and counting during 68 showings for the Tangerines, the Stockport-born winger recently bagged the Football League Young Player of the Year award. And if recent reports are to be believed, that could well spell the beginning of a boomerang return to the club he once spurned, in the guise of a return to Liverpool.
Although while the interest from Merseyside has been well documented over the past few months, this morning’s suggestions that Tottenham Hotspur may well have thrown their hat into the chase for the one time-Notts County loanee, it appears Ince may well have a choice of top clubs to chose from should he move on this summer.
But although Brendan Rodgers’ side have long been assumed the best place for Ince to continue his development, with Spurs now a potential destination for the winger’s services, would he theoretically fare better at White Hart Lane, than he might at Anfield?
Superficially, should Ince really look to continue adhering to the principles that took him away from Liverpool in the first place, a move to Andre Villas-Boas’ side might not seem like the most logical of transfers.
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Ince won plenty of plaudits following his brave decision to drop down a league in the hunt for first-team football, but for as well as he’s been served in moving to Blackpool, moving to a side which boasts such excellence in the wide areas could serve to seriously stall his development.
At 21, Ince needs to be playing week in, week out but in moving to a club which boasts both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon as its preeminent left and right wingers respectively, he could find it’s only his bank balance which is receiving the real benefits.
Conversely, while he’s hardly likely to simply stroll into Rodgers’ side at Liverpool, the competition for places out wide doesn’t perhaps carry the same stigma of importance that it does at White Hart Lane and that could ultimately help his cause.
While naturally left footed, Ince found himself playing on the right-hand side for large parts of the first half of Blackpool’s league campaign this season and his versatility would sit very well indeed within Brendan Rodgers’ set-up.
The Ulsterman looks to have a job on his hands finding out just how he fits the likes of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Stewart Downing all into one team – not to mention the talents of Raheem Sterling – as the recent 3-1 defeat at Southampton seemed to suggest. But with an ability to play either right or left, the chances of Ince disposing of a Stewart Downing in the Liverpool starting line-up, feel an awful lot more likely than say, an Aaron Lennon at Spurs.
Lennon and Bale are the undoubted lifeblood of Spurs’ attacking play and although the Welshman remains the box-office hit, you only have to look at how the Lilywhites have coped in recent games without the England man, to discover just how important Lennon also is to this side.
Should Ince fancy a move to N17, the aforementioned duo have blazed the way for the standard of wide-play that both the club and supporters have come to expect. Living up to such expectations would be a very difficult job indeed.
Yet while a move to Liverpool might represent a slightly easier route into first team Premier League football, the rewards could just be there for Ince should he wish to take on what would be a real challenge at Spurs, yet one that isn’t unassailable by any means.
With Gareth Bale’s evolution from archetypal winger to free attacking force still well under way, the left hand side is no longer an absolute shut-out in North London and there has been a growing argument this season that Spurs need to add depth and incisiveness within the ranks in regards to their wide players.
Much has been made upon the overreliance on Bale this season but while it’d be asking a little too much of Ince to rival the sort of impact the Welshman wields within Villas-Boas’ side, Ince could certainly offer a viable alternative to Aaron Lennon, and that’s something Tottenham have felt woefully short on at times this season.
Past the jet-heeled pairing, Spurs simply don’t possess anything of the same mould on the bench and when Villas-Boas has looked to change a game this season, it’s often been with guile and industry, as opposed to pace and penetration. This isn’t to say that Ince would necessarily supplant Lennon or anyone else in the Portuguese’s side, although he would perhaps have a lot more opportunities at Tottenham than some seem to be suggesting.
For wherever Tom Ince’s future lies, the chances are that the 21-year-old is going to have his pick of a selection of Premier League clubs and should the interest from both Liverpool and Spurs prove concrete, then he won’t just be picking from any ordinary ones, either.
Liverpool may perhaps offer the better chance of securing a first-team berth, but with Villas-Boas’ side in with a chance of Champions League qualification, a move to White Hart Lane could just prove the more attractive, albeit a lot riskier, proposition,