Players are too friendly these days, claims Ince
Published 10/03/2016 | 02:30
Paul Ince is nostalgic for the rivalry that used to exist between the players of Liverpool and Manchester United.
Given that he tasted life on both sides of the divide, he knows exactly what kind of atmosphere the supporters will generate this evening.
He wonders, however, if the dressing-room class of 2016 fully grasp the significance of this unlikely Europa League meeting and the feelings that it will generate off the park.
"You look at the teams now and there's no head to head where you think 'Oh, that's going to be great, I can't wait to see that'", says the 48-year-old, relaxing back in his seat at Setanta's Dublin HQ.
"You go through all the players that used to be involved. There was myself, (Roy) Keane, (Steven) Gerrard, and you knew there would be tackles flying in and battles all over the pitch.
"Now? I don't think they actually dislike each other. With Liverpool and United, there was obviously certain players who didn't like lads on the other side.
"But now, I think it's a situation where they quite like each other and it's not a problem."
In that regard, he says that the body language in the tunnel beforehand will be interesting.
"You see teams now before they go out and they're all talking to each other and shaking hands.
"When we played big games at Manchester United, we used to stand in the tunnel straight and face ahead. There was no handshakes, no chatting. You'd have Keaney there snarling and you could see the players on the other side thinking it was going to be a tough day. Now, they haven't got that presence, that fear factor.
"With such an influx of foreign players into both teams, I'm not sure they understand what it means.
"People will talk about how big the game is but it's just words sometimes. It's changed that way."
The former England international still anticipates a lively affair, while diplomatically refusing to state a preference.
Ince lives in the Liverpool area and is met with positive comments when he is out and about, but the fact he spent six seasons at United and just two with their arch-rivals means he has a deeper reserve of Old Trafford memories to draw upon.
Keane and Eric Cantona are mentioned frequently as he discusses the big characters that he soldiered with through his career.
Still, he fears for United this evening, believing that Liverpool have the ability to make a big statement if they perform to the best of their capabilities; the caveat he attaches to the prediction is that Louis van Gaal's charges could stay in contention if he keeps faith with his young guns.
"Jesse Lingard and (Marcus) Rashford have given them pace and, more important, they won't be scared by the game. They will be fearless. It won't affect them.
"Circumstances have forced them to be put into the team and they've given them legs which is what they needed because they were so slow before with their build-up.
"It's just a matter of whether (Louis) Van Gaal throws them in; I don't know if he will. I hope he sticks with them and throws them into this situation because they need to get used to these types of experiences. This is what it's all about, this is what you live for, what you dream about.
"But I still feel when I look at the two teams that the way Liverpool start games, really quick on the front foot and pressing up high like (Jurgen) Klopp's teams did at Dortmund, I think that could be crucial.
"You go back to the league game at Anfield (in January) where United won 1-0. Liverpool had five or six chances I think if they start in the same way and take the chances comfortably, they could put this tie to bed."
Ince's pal Ryan Giggs is assistant to Van Gaal and has been mentioned as a possible successor with the Dutchman's future up in the air.
But Ince, who is out of management at the moment after some sobering experiences, has stayed consistent with his view that Giggs should learn his trade elsewhere instead of going straight into one of the biggest jobs in the world game.
"I'm not saying that Giggsy couldn't manage Manchester United," he stresses. "If Jose (Mourinho) came in then Ryan will be in exactly the same situation if he stays as No 2.
"Instead of doing that, I would like to see Ryan go to a club in the Championship and build up his own CV because he's got so much respect from the fans - he is possibly their greatest ever player - and I'd hate to see him throw all that way by taking a job at United early doors, because where do you go after that if it goes wrong?"
That said, Ince is not entirely convinced that Van Gaal is a busted flush, believing that a trophy could be enough to keep him in employment.
"If he wins the Europa League or wins the FA Cup, what are they going to do?" he explained.
"Every time Alex Ferguson was trying to build a team, we always won something even if the team wasn't there yet.
"We won the FA Cup, and then the Cup Winners Cup.
"Van Gaal's team might be miles off but if he can win a competition then it makes things interesting.
"Are they really going to get rid of him?"