PAUL INCE is a flag-waving, patriotic Englishman who always backs Premier League teams in Europe.
Yet Saturday’s Champions League final will be difficult. He is completely torn over who to support.
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Because as he watches Manchester City take on Inter Milan, the memories will come flooding back to Ince, who remains one of this country’s most successful exports to Italy.
He said: “It is a difficult one for me. As an Englishman, I will always want English teams to do well but Inter has a massive place in my heart so I am divided.”
Ince, 55, followed in the footsteps of stars like Paul Gascoigne, Trevor Francis and David Platt when he headed to Italy in 1995.
The midfielder, who came up through the ranks at West Ham, had two strong seasons at Inter and the San Siro club were desperate for him to stay when he left in 1997.
But it was not all a bed of roses at the start.
Ince, speaking to SunSport from the Bahamas where he has been celebrating his 33rd wedding anniversary with wife Claire, said: “The move came as a bit of a shock as I had already been at Manchester United for six years.
“I was negotiating a contract for another four years. Then the club accepted a £7.5million bid from Inter Milan. It wasn’t the move I wanted.
“When we landed there were loads of press, fans.
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“This bloke came up and said, ‘Mr Ince, are you married? A lot of players often return home with an Italian woman as they are all so beautiful’.
“My wife Claire was with me and was upset as soon as we arrived at the airport — so it was not a good start!
“We could not find a place to stay, either. They showed us a couple of terrible apartments and then I started to have second thoughts about the whole move.
“Then, they put us in a beautiful hotel on Lake Como and we stayed there two or three months.
“For the first few weeks it was a struggle. The manager Ottavio Bianchi was playing me on the left wing.
“We went to Torino for a game, we had not started the season well, and were 2-0 down at half-time.
“Massimo Moratti, the Inter president, came down at half-time and went bananas.
“I told my team-mate Massimo Paganin, who spoke good English, ‘Can you tell the president I had six years at Manchester United in central midfield and you are not getting the best out of me’.
“The president listened, told the manager to put me in midfield and we drew the game 2-2.
“By Monday, the president had fired the manager and brought in Roy Hodgson, that is when things changed and improved for me.”
Inter came seventh but improved in his — and Hodgson’s — second campaign. Ince added: “It was probably the best move I ever made.
“The culture, lifestyle and language all scared me at first. But I got on so well with the fans and they loved me. I loved the Milan derby.
“I have played in some derbies but this one was sensational. You would get the flares and the game would have to be delayed because it was so smoky — you could not see the player next to you.
“The second season with Inter was better and we finished third in Serie A and reached the final of the Uefa Cup but ended up losing on penalties.”
Ultimately, though, Ince had to leave for family reasons.
He explained: “Claire had Bell’s Palsy when she was in Italy and was also pregnant with my second son, Daniel, so we decided to go back and I signed for Liverpool.
“It made it hard because things were going so well at Inter.
“Moratti was really upset and said, ‘We are signing Ronaldo next season, you cannot go’.
“When I look back, I understand the decision I made. It was just not a decision I wanted to make.
“I was watching an Inter game the other day and saw Javier Zanetti on TV. We signed on the same day. He is now one of the greats at Inter, and vice-president.
“I sort of say to myself, ‘You never know, it could have been me if I had stayed there!’
“The most important thing is I fitted in and made my mark.”
So who does Ince think will taste glory in Istanbul tonight?
He said: “It will be an intriguing final. Manchester City are the overwhelming favourites but that brings pressure.
“Inter struggle against lesser teams and show up against the big sides.
“Everyone will have to be a ten out of ten for Inter, though, if they are to beat City.”