The retirement of Bryan Robson in 1991 and scarcity of quality successors left the England team with a hole to fill – they desperately needed a midfield general.
Paul Emerson Carlyle Ince debuted against Spain in 1992 amidst a difficult spell for the national team under Graham Taylor.
Ince, cousin of boxer Nigel Benn, went on to become his country’s first black captain in a 1993 friendly against the USA, but other early international high points were rare as the team failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, and he had to console himself with club success at Manchester United for the first half of his career.
No one could have predicted the influence he would go on to have at Euro 96. Of the eight goals England scored, Ince had a direct hand in three. The only match he missed was the quarter-final against Spain, and Terry Venables’ side missed him, risking defeat for the only time in the Championship.
He returned in the semi-final and his stunning, dipping volley from more than 30 yards forced the corner that led to Alan Shearer’s second-minute opener.
Regardless of the heartbreaking penalty exit that followed, Ince was able to hold his head up high as one of the stars of the competition. He carried this form into World Cup qualifying, most memorably against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in October 1997. Ince received a head injury in the first half, but played on, shirt bloodied, to lead England to a heroic 0-0 draw and through to the World Cup Finals.
At France 98 (by now Liverpool captain) he was again influential. His battling qualities were essential when David Beckham’s dismissal left England with ten men in that titanic second-round clash against Argentina, and he helped guide the match to penalties.
This time he took and missed a spot-kick in the shoot-out, but no one gave him a hard time thanks to his heroic contribution – The Times naming him as one of England’s best players in France.