Stoke City winger Tom Ince has stated his desire to play regular first-team football this season in an interview with BBC Radio Stoke, whether that’s with the Potters or elsewhere.
These comments come after his first-half goal against Doncaster Rovers in the Carabao Cup last night, helping to send the Staffordshire side through to the third round of the competition.
However, it looked like his career at the bet365 Stadium was over early on in the summer after being left out of their training camp in Northern Ireland along with Sam Vokes, Lee Gregory and James McClean who have all left the club since last month’s omission.
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After seeing him in action in pre-season, first-team coach Rory Delap backed Ince to revive his Stoke career despite an unsuccessful three years at the Championship club, first joining the Potters back in 2018 for a £12m deal and failing to live up to this eight-figure fee ever since.
In a bid to win more game time, he was sent out on loan to Luton Town in January but sustained ankle ligament damage in April which cut short his 2020/21 season.
And now he’s back at the bet365 Stadium, it’s unclear whether he will receive the game time he desires with manager Michael O’Neill switching to a 3-5-2 formation without the need for advanced wingers.
Regular game time is a non-negotiable for the 29-year-old, but admits his future rests in others’ hands. Speaking to BBC Radio Stoke on this subject, he said (quotes via Stoke-on-Trent Live): “I think for me, the last 12 to 18 months has been difficult.
“I went out on loan last season and picked up an injury within the first couple of weeks which didn’t help.
“I have just come back in here this summer with a fresh mindset to get myself back fit, first and foremost, and then keep my head down, work hard and maintain my professionalism.
“Obviously there is still a week of the window left, but we will see – whether I remain here or not is down to the powers that be.
“I am at an age now where I do need to be playing games and showing people what I can do. I just want to be playing regularly, and whether that will be here or elsewhere, that isn’t really in my thoughts.”
With the change in formation, it will be interesting to see whether O’Neill is prepared to play him at wing-back for the long-term, whether to convert him into a centre forward or whether it’s time to sever their ties with him.
After arriving for an initial £10m fee back in 2018 and being persuaded to drop down from the Premier League with Huddersfield to the Championship, he is likely to be on a decent salary so he would probably need to take a considerable wage cut if he wants to make a fresh start this summer.
The Potters have been excellent so far this season, one of the reasons why Ince may want to remain at the club. But he may feel this fresh start is needed after enduring three tough years now he’s approaching his 30th birthday.
For Stoke, they know they have a promising player on their hands – that’s why they paid so much money for him in the first place. However, if selling him means they can bring in one or two more players who could make the difference this season, they are probably likely to go ahead with it.
The winger’s next potential destination is unknown – but he will probably remain in the Championship if he decides to remain in England beyond his stay in Staffordshire.