Rae and Ince weren’t just common opponents, or even a couple of players who didn’t think much of each other when their paths crossed now and again. Rae will freely admit that their mutual dislike used to be much deeper than that. They were “enemies”.

There wasn’t any major flashpoint that caused it, no foul, tackle or single incident which had the pair of them at each other’s throats. It was just a shared resentment and antipathy which festered and grew every time they were on opposite sides of the same midfield turf.

They didn’t play against each other often – while Rae was at Millwall, Sunderland and Wolves, Ince was strutting his stuff with Manchester United, Inter Milan, Liverpool and Middlesbrough – but there were enough moments for their minds to be made up. Or so they thought. In 2002 a transfer happened which had the unexpected by-product of melting their hostility and transforming them into friends. Rae was already in the Wolves midfield when the manager at the time, Dave Jones, decided it would be a good idea to sign Ince to play alongside him.

“Paul is the sort of guy who has friends and enemies in football,” said Rae. “I was actually one of those who would say they were one of the enemies. Genuinely.

“When he was on his way to Wolves and it was announced on the radio that he was going to be the new midfielder

I said to people ‘oh no, not that so-and-so’. About 10 months later me and Paul were playing golf together with friends and he told a story about that same day when he had been talking about the players already at Wolves. And he had said ‘... and then there’s Alex Rae, that so-and-so’!”

The language was not so polite at the time.

“We just had a rivalry that developed by coming up against each other in games, although I think there were a few choice words exchanged as well as the playing side of things. You could say we became rivals. But then all of that changed when he came to Wolves. We got to know each other and we struck up a relationship. We’ve been friends who kept in touch ever since. I think you sometimes find that in football, that the people you dislike turn out to be very similar characters to yourself.”

Since coming to like each other they have had comparable experiences in management, having each tasted success and failure. Rae had both at Dundee, where he finished third in his debut season in the First Division and then followed that up with second. It seemed like he was building something until he was sacked in October last year when the team was third bottom of the division (but only six points behind the leaders).

Ince kept Macclesfield in the Football League in his first job and then won League Two and the Football League Trophy in his first spell at MK Dons in 2008. He was such a hot ticket that he was touted as a future England manager and given a Premier League job at Blackburn, only to last six months and just 21 competitive games before being sacked. He had seven months to lick his wounds before MK Dons invited him back as manager this summer. They lost in the League One play-offs last season and want promotion to The Championship this time despite the competition they will surely face from Leeds, Norwich City and Charlton among others.

Rae was out of football for virtually the same length of time after Dundee. Earlier this year he spent six days in the Arctic Circle on a 200 kilometre dog sledding expedition for the Rangers Charity Foundation, and last month he was part of an SFA delegation of coaches which travelled to Sweden to study for their Uefa pro-licence coaching badges. He applied for the Falkirk manager’s job only to lose out to Eddie May. Not long after returning from Sweden he learned that Ince wanted him in Milton Keynes and he readily accepted a two year contract.

“It’s great to be getting back in,” Rae said. “It’s been a tough year out, a real learning curve for me. I was always keen to get back in because I feel I have a lot to offer. This is all part of my development because I have great aspirations to kick on.

“I feel we [his assistant was David Farrell] did a really good job at Dundee. I remember speaking to another manager at the time and when I told him what our budget was he couldn’t believe it: his was two-and-a-half times bigger. Dundee was my apprenticeship.”

He wasn’t permitted to serve it in full. Jocky Scott was appointed after Rae was dismissed and has recently become the beneficiary of Dundee’s latest sugar daddy, Calum Melville. The Aberdeen-based businessman is said to be worth £124 million and took over the club with a pledge to increase the player budget by 25% and help make Dundee a top six SPL club.

“I know Dundee have money behind them now,” said Rae. “That’s fine. Listen, I wish them well. Their fans have been starved in recent years and had to go through administration and things like that. They were always good to me so I wish them well. Obviously some people aren’t going to like your tactics or the style of football or the way you put things across, but the majority were great with me.”

Rae’s budget was not what he would have wished it to be at Dens Park, and nor was Ince’s when he was quickly dismissed by Blackburn. “I think there is always a lot more that goes on at clubs than the media and people realise.

I know that from my own experience at Dundee. We stabilised that club because they were all over the place when we first went in there. I haven’t had a great chance to sit with Paul and talk about what happened with him and Blackburn but I’m sure I’ll hear about it over time. It’s just great to be teaming up with him.”

Including assistant manager Karl Robinson – who worked with Ince in his first spell at MK Dons and again at Blackburn – Rae said the new

coaching team were “three hungry, aspiring guys”.

That’s nicer than some of the things he and Ince called each other in the past.