EXCLUSIVE: Ince inspired by father's glittering international career ahead of first Under 21 berth against Azerbaijan
21:30 GMT, 5 September 2012
Thomas Ince sports a huge smile as he starts to recall some of the more memorable moments of his childhood.
There are stories about how he once had Ryan Giggs as his room-mate, laughs about how he appeared on Match of the Day as a toddler kicking a ball around in the tunnel at Old Trafford and a sense of wonderment that he still has the shirt of Argentina’s 1998 World Cup captain Javier Zanetti.
Being the son of a former Manchester United, Liverpool and Inter Milan star inevitably means Ince can tell stories like few other 20-year-olds and he has the priceless souvenirs to accompany his tales. But there is one memento, in particular, that has added significance.
All smiles: Thomas Ince has shown promise in his performances at Blackpool this season
PROBABLE ENGLAND U21 STARTING XI V AZERBAIJAN
(4-2-3-1): Steele; Kelly, Caulker, Dawson, Rose; Henderson, Shelvey; Marshall, McEachran, Ince; Delfouneso.
Hanging on the wall of his home is a bloody, grass-stained reminder of what it means to play for England. It is the shirt his father, Paul, wore when captaining his country during a frenzied World Cup qualifier against Italy in Rome in October 1997.
Pictures of him barking out orders with his head was swathed in bandages have become some of the most iconic images in England’s history.
‘It’s in a frame and it is in the same state as was at the end of the game,’ says Ince, whose own stock is rising thanks to the eye-catching form he has been showing for Blackpool this season.
‘Every day I see that shirt, it provides inspiration and fills me with pride.
‘Those types of things have to motivate you. I have got to try and reach that level in my career.
'When you are playing football, you want to go all the way to the top otherwise there is no point playing the game. If one day in my career I can wear a shirt like that, I will be a happy man.’
He will certainly get to wear an England shirt on Thursday evening here in Baku.
Hot prospect: Ince (right) is hoping to put in a shift as England Under 21s take on Azerbaijan
Ince junior is poised to make his first Under-21 appearance in a vital European Championship qualifier against Azerbaijan and his determination to follow Paul, who won 53 caps, into the senior ranks is apparent.
‘I remember quite a lot about Dad playing for England and I’ve got a lot of good memories,’ he said. ‘I went to the 1998 World Cup and I went to the Euros in 2000.
Hey roomie! Ince recalls a time when one of his heroes, Ryan Giggs, stayed in the family home
'I also remember him missing the penalty (in the shootout) against Argentina (at the World Cup). I reminded him of it from time-to-time!
‘He just brushes it to one side and won’t speak about it! I just feel fortunate I was able to be around that environment. It’s something if I can be a part of myself in the future I’d be delighted. My old man was delighted when he heard I’d been called up. It goes without saying he is one of my heroes.’
So, too, is Giggs. Such was the bond Ince senior and the Welshman struck up when they played at Old Trafford that Giggs moved into the Ince family home for a spell.
It is no surprise, then, to hear the playing style of United’s No 11 has heavily influenced this young, articulate midfielder.
‘Ryan has been in my life since I was a kid and I remember when he lived with us,’ said Ince. ‘I was quite young at the time but he ended up sharing my room, which is pretty amazing really.
'I’ve had the privilege to meet some top people and have top people in my life to guide me the right way.’
Those figures were there to help when he decided that, after nine years at Liverpool, it would be best to leave Anfield and join Blackpool last August.
They were also on hand with sound advice when clubs from the Barclays Premier League, notably Swansea, came calling during the transfer window.
‘I worked with some great people, like (former Academy director) Steve Heighway and Hughie MacAuley and I had a great schooling,’ said Ince.
Another legend: Ince still owns Argentinian Javier Zanetti's (left) shirt from the World Cup in 1998
But I didn’t want to sign a four-year deal (and not play). Blackpool gave me the stage to play regularly and I haven’t looked back.
‘It was flattering that there was interest, as it shows you are doing something well.
'But it was only right I put my faith in Blackpool because they had put their faith in me.
'They have helped me become the player I am and they are the reason I have got this chance with England.’
A chance that Under-21 coach Stuart Pearce feels is fully deserved.
‘I haven’t spoken to Paul about Thomas,’ said Pearce. ‘My eyes tell me everything.
'They tell me there is a player with his tail up, one who is enjoying his football and one who we hope is going to be very useful at Under-21 level.’