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Nicky Butt interview..

Scottish Mag

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Whatever happened to Nicky Butt? If felt like an insulting agenda to put to a man who has just agreed to his first interview for years but it also felt appropriate. Three years ago Butt was such a performer at the World Cup that Pele singled him out as the best player. Sixteen months ago Butt was still a Manchester United midfielder appearing in an FA Cup final. This time last year he was a £4m signing by Sir Bobby Robson at Newcastle United, a capture. Now he is on loan at Birmingham City. They have just been beaten twice at home and today go to West Bromwich Albion for a derby that must be won to avoid early-season depression. "I know what you mean," Butt said.


It was one of many deadpan answers. Butt does not feel "comfortable" sitting down discussing his life and times but that is a shame because his is a rare, pared-down view of an overblown industry. As such it is welcome. A 30-year-old who has won six league titles, two FA Cups, a European Cup and 39 England caps revealed that in his Manchester home there is not one picture of his achievements on the wall. Then he paused and said: "Well, one. But it's not up. In the house I don't have any football stuff. If you've football six days a week you want to get away from it."

Surely the medals are there, treasured? "Me Dad's got some, some are in the bank, Mum's got a couple. I don't have any. Some people have stuff all around the house; I don't. Simple as that."


The simple life has been Butt's philosophy on the pitch as well, since as a 17-year-old he came on against Oldham Athletic in the November of that first Premier League season, 1992-93. His memories of that day? "So long ago I can't remember. I think I came on for Paul Ince. We won, don't know the score." It was 3-0.


Butt had been at the club for four years prior to his debut and from that Oldham game it was a glorious procession as United set about dominating England with Butt averaging around 30 league games a season. Butt, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers and David Beckham emerged at the same time and will forever be cherished at Old Trafford as the second coming of the Busby Babes. Nostalgia does not come easily to Butt but, when asked to nominate a few highlights from that time, he said: "Leagues, cups, trebles, obviously. But the highlights for me were when we all played in the A team together, we didn't lose a game all year, things like that. Having first-teamers like Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Roy Keane come and watch us because we were playing so well - for them to watch us on a Saturday morning before their game . . . There's that many, winning the first league, making my debut. We were lucky so many came through together; there wasn't so much focus on one of us, we could share it. You see young players coming through now and there's so much pressure on them."


Throughout his 12 seasons at Old Trafford Butt had known mainly enjoyable pressure. Towards the end, however, there was the pressure of competition for places. Two seasons ago, Butt's last at the club, he started 12 league games. It was two more than Kleberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba but five fewer than Darren Fletcher. In the January window he met Bruce to discuss moving to Birmingham only for his first child to be born. It would have meant "big upheaval for the family that January. I wasn't sure." So Butt stayed on to the end of the season. He knew he had to leave yet could not envisage the day. Finally it came on United's pre-season tour of the United States.


"I remember my first day, on trial at 13 - there were 500 kids at Littleton Road in Salford," Butt recalled. "I remember my first day when I was 16 and I signed full time. And I remember my last day. It was agonising but in a football sense it had to be done. Everyone at United knew that, even the manager. If you're not happy in your football, then you can see it in your everyday life. Training all week and not getting a reward for it is difficult. It was Chicago, pre-season tour, things were happening at home. I just got pulled aside and told that the club had accepted an offer from Newcastle. I flew back on my own. It was a long flight, it wasn't a nice flight. Things going through your head, 'am I doing the right thing, am I not?' I'd been there so long, so many friends there. 'Am I doing the right thing?'"


There must have been times since when Butt thought "No". Yet when he moved to Newcastle it was for four years, he took his family and bought a house. He had an excellent debut at Middlesbrough and he was, he said, "enjoying it. The European football and the stature of the club appealed to me. It was very difficult to leave Manchester United. I'd been there over half my life but Newcastle made an attractive offer and I went for it.


"I started well, for the first six, seven, maybe eight games I did well. Then I started getting little niggles in my hamstrings. I'm not making excuses but I was playing not fully fit for about six weeks. I had to stop, have a long rest - nine weeks doing nothing - then build back up. Unfortunately when I came back I didn't get the games to get me match fit and I know I didn't play as well as I could. Everyone could see that. I'd sum it up: one part played well, one part injured, one part really bad."


As Newcastle's season disintegrated, Butt's lowest point came against his former colleagues in the FA Cup semi-final. "It was difficult because of my United connections but I went out there to play as well as I could for Newcastle. It didn't work for me, it didn't work for anybody but obviously it came back to me. I can take that, that's part and parcel of being a so-called bigger player. But I felt like I was the scapegoat for the fans that day. There were a lot of lies spoken, like how I snubbed the fans, which is a lie. I didn't, I just felt so embarrassed about getting beat 4-1 off my old team I didn't feel like doing laps of honour. I thought the best thing to do was just to get off the pitch. I'm not one for milking things anyway, and not something that doesn't deserved to be milked. We'd just been beat, battered 4-1. I just wanted to get off. Besides some fans booed me, so I didn't want to clap them.


"Then some individuals said I was seen walking through the press room with Alex Ferguson, his arms round me, laughing and joking. Which is a lie. I was walking through the press bit with a man I admire and always will admire, someone who gave me my chance, someone who I have known since I was 12. I just happened to bump into him and we had a chat. I can assure you there was no laughing. Then I heard I didn't go home with the team, that I travelled to Manchester. Which is a lie. I got on the plane with my team-mates and I flew back to Newcastle with my team-mates.


"In a way I can understand the Newcastle fans because, if they hear things like that, see me not playing well - and I hold up my hands to that - they put two and two together. I don't blame Newcastle fans for that."


Mediocrity motivated Butt. "I had a six-month bad time," he said. "Generally I've been quite successful." He was determined now to "have a real go in pre-season". Then Newcastle bought Scott Parker and Emre, and Butt was told "honestly, man to man" by Graeme Souness that he might play one week, be on the bench the next. "If I wanted to do that, I'd have stayed at Man United, that was my whole reason for leaving there."


So here he is on loan at Birmingham. Butt is still a Newcastle player but, if the season goes well, he will make a permanent move to St Andrew's. He thinks it would be "difficult" to return to Newcastle and he will not be at St James' Park tomorrow to watch them face Manchester United. Instead he will be recovering from Birmingham's game at West Brom. If Butt can help haul Blues out of their trough and have a productive season again, then he has not given up hope of an England recall. "The players they have got are so good in midfield that it's difficult to get in. But, if I get my chance, hopefully I can take it."


Which could mean another World Cup, of course, though Butt's view of the last is as refreshingly downbeat as the man himself. "It all went really quick. Strange, really. A lot of hype. In England we all seem to get excited about things that generally never happen. We always seem to think how well we've done - in any sport. But if you don't win, you've failed. That's something we need to get out of our mentality. 'You're doing well, you're doing well,' people say - we got beat in the quarter-finals. We did well, I reckon, in two games. Argentina? Good for half a game, in the second half we were pummelled. We did well for the Denmark game. So for 1½ games we did well. The rest of it was average."


And Pele?


"I'm not being funny or anything but there were a lot better players than me at that World Cup. I know that, everyone knows that. He was talking to an English journalist when he said that. If he was talking to a Brazilian journalist he would have said Ronaldinho or whoever. Don't get me wrong, it was a really nice thing to hear. But if you start listening to things like that . ."


Butt's earthy Mancunian drawl trailed off. If he had started listening to things like that he would have pictures of himself on the wall.

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