Blackburn Rovers' Paul Ince admits his first trip back to West Ham United as a manager is the game of the season for him. Ince takes his side to Upton Park, where he launched his illustrious playing career, on Saturday insisting it is a bigger occasion than facing Manchester United or Liverpool, two of his other two former clubs.
But the former England midfielder, who earned the Blackburn job in the summer after cutting his teeth managing Macclesfield Town and Milton Keynes Dons in the lower leagues, can expect a mixed reception from Hammers fans with long memories. Ince made his name at the London club, but the manner of his £1-million transfer to Manchester United in 1989 still rankles with some West Ham supporters.
It could be a long 90 minutes for the 40-year-old, stood in the technical area in front of the main stand at the Boleyn Ground. "I looked at the fixtures and noticed straight away that West Ham away was the third game in," said Ince, who also turned out for Inter Milan during his playing career.
" Not long ago I was looking at the fixtures and thinking about Darlington and Rochdale - no disrespect to them. Now here I am looking at when we are going to be playing against Manchester United and Chelsea - and West Ham, of course."
West Ham fans still remember how Ince was pictured in a United shirt before the deal was done 19 years ago, the photograph appearing in a national newspaper. The initial move was postponed after he failed a medical, but was quickly completed after he later received the all-clear.
Yet far from dreading the reception which awaits him on Saturday, Ince is relishing the prospect of pitting his wits against his former club. His Premier League managerial career has certainly started brightly with four points from the first two games, including an eye-catchng 3-2 win at Everton on the opening day.
Bellamy staying put
In contrast, West Ham have endured a mixed start. Despite defeating Wigan Athletic 2-1 in their first game, they were soundly beaten 3-0 at Manchester City last weekend, after being reduced to ten men following the first-half dismissal of Mark Noble.
Manager Alan Curbishley has also seen defender Anton Ferdinand join top-tier rivals Sunderland, while West Ham were forced to issue a statement earlier in the week concerning Craig Bellamy, a £7.5-million signing last summer.
The dashing forward, who spent one season at Blackburn before moving to Liverpool in June 2006, has been strongly linked with a move to Manchester City, where Mark Hughes, his former Wales coach, is manager. However, West Ham officials insist that Bellamy is staying at Upton Park.