When it comes to picking up tournament experience at a young age, Thomas Ince had a headstart on the rest of England's Under-21 squad.
The Blackpool winger remembers travelling around France during the 1998 World Cup and looking on from the stands in St-Etienne when his dad, Paul, missed one of the penalties that condemned England to defeat against Argentina. He was six at the time and the loss broke his heart.
These days, though, it is the son not the dad who is proudly wearing three lions on his chest, relishing the chance to make an impression on the European Championship finals in Israel. Suspended for Wednesday's defeat against Italy, after he was given a one-game ban following the post-match melee in Serbia last October, Ince returns against Norway in Petah Tikva on Saturday, when England need to win to revive hopes of reaching the semi-finals. "It killed me watching the first game," Ince says.
It hurt England every bit as much to have a player with Ince's craft and guile confined to the sidelines. The 21-year-old was outstanding during England's qualification campaign and he has enjoyed another fine season at Blackpool, where his father was appointed manager in February.
For Ince, his progress at Bloomfield Road, where he has made 88 appearances across two seasons, vindicates the decision to turn his back on Liverpool in 2011 in pursuit of first-team football. "When I went to Notts County [on loan in 2010] with my old man [who was manager] I loved every minute of it. Playing in front of 15,000 fans, that few months opened my eyes to what I would call the real world," Ince says.
"You get a silver spoon in your mouth at an academy. You play on a Tuesday night, win 3-0 and just get a pat on the back and 'report for training tomorrow'. You don't feel anything. At 18-19 I made a big decision. I sat down with my dad and said: 'It is time for me to go and play some football'. Luckily for me I made the right decision. You have to take your own route in life and I sit here today with no regrets. I look back and I look at the player I am now, there's still a long way to go but I have played in some fantastic games."
Ince enjoyed an unusual upbringing. He mingled with stars at training grounds, his idol, Ryan Giggs, lived with them for six months, and then there was the first occasion when he was old enough to appreciate that his dad, who had not long returned from playing for Internazionale, was quite famous. "We went back to the San Siro and the Brazilian Ronaldo was sitting behind me. I said to Dad: 'Get his autograph for me.' And all of a sudden on the big screen at the San Siro came Paul Ince's face instead of Ronaldo. That was when I knew how big a player he was."
He soon discovered that the self-styled "Guv'nor" was just as hard with his son as he was with team-mates. "As a kid he used to make me cry," Ince says. "If I had a bad game he would be screaming in my face and telling me I'm this and that. [But] that is only going to make me stronger. You are going to have to face critics. Now we'll sit down and he'll analyse every part of my game. Dinner would be on the table but it has to wait for the pause-play of the video. But I would not want it any other way."
On the pitch, it feels like they have little in common. "I don't get as many red cards as he did," Ince says, laughing. "I'm very different. It helps massively that I don't play in the same position and my style of play is different. I say I am a more creative player but he says he has scored more goals. He shows me all his goals on YouTube, like for West Ham when he got two against Liverpool. He goes on about that all the time. And the one where he beat Zidane in the air for a header. I'm just like: 'Give it a rest.'"
A more uncomfortable conversation may take place this month, with several Premier League club's interested in signing Ince, which leaves his dad in an awkward position. "He's been my advisor, he's my dad and he's my manager. But ultimately it's about what Thomas Ince wants to do," he says.
"I have had a big two years of football that's brought me to where I am now – it's got me a place in the Under-21 team, it's got the media talking about me, which is flattering. But it's about making the right move at the right time. There's no point in going somewhere and stopping your development. I'm going to sit down after the Euros – touch wood we will get to the final and even win the thing – and club football will be what I speak to dad about. If I stay at Blackpool, then great. But if it's time to move on, I'll move on."
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