I know no one else still cares about this, but I often wonder what might have happened had Tom Ince joined Cardiff.
I’ve been thinking about this again recently because Cardiff have been linked with Jarrod Bowen, a player that is at a similar stage in his career and stylistically similar too. Both are free-scoring right wingers and Bowen, like Ince back in the summer of 2013, looks set for bigger and better things.
Cardiff then, as now, were looking for a regular source of goals and more cutting edge from midfield. Ince was the darling of the Championship at the time, along with Wilfried Zaha and the £8m deal agreed with Blackpool looked like a great piece of business. He arrived for talks, he talked, he left and that was that. Cardiff never really filled that void and Ince returned to the Championship. That is where both have mainly resided ever since.
It was a sliding doors moment for both, but what if the transfer had materialised? Would the fates of both changed dramatically?
The biggest obstacle to the deal appeared to be Paul Ince, who essentially represented him, while also managing him at Blackpool. Despite it being the grossest conflict of interest imaginable, Paul joined Tom for talks, which were very positive according to both parties.
“We had a very amicable, friendly chat,” Malky Mackay revealed at the time. “They asked me a lot of questions about where his career could go forward, where I see him in terms of the type of player he is and what’s going on here. He was certainly very impressed by the stadium, training ground and the city in general during our conversation and the plans for Cardiff City going forward.”
Ince, when later explaining his reasoning for pulling the plug, added: “The decision was nothing against Cardiff or their manager Malky Mackay, who is a top, top bloke. He phoned my dad to begin with and showed a lot of interest in taking me to Cardiff. I respect the way he went about it, and that’s why I went down there, to have a look at the club and speak to Malky face to face.”
In Ince’s defence, he had a young daughter and was keen to stay near his family in the north-west. He was also likely aware of reported interest from Tottenham and Liverpool, which never materialised.
Since then, Ince has led a strangely nomadic existence, taking in Crystal Palace, Hull, Nottingham Forest, Derby, Huddersfield and Stoke, where he currently resides, in the lower echelons of the Championship. He has raised about £27m in transfer fees during the intervening years, but never really progressed or got anywhere near fulfilling his potential.
Had Ince moved to Cardiff, who were willing to make him their best paid player, would things have panned out any differently? Maybe he would have saved Mackay’s job and Cardiff’s Premier League status, which in turn may have led to his selection for the England squad the following summer. Alternatively, it might not have made any difference at all and both parties may still have tread a broadly similar path.
I often think the former, but maybe the latter was always destined to be.