Nicky Butt is yet to make a decision on his future following his release by Newcastle last month. The news brought back some fond memories of the midfielder, and got me to thinking how underrated he’s been throughout his career. I don’t think people remember how important a player he was for United for most of his career there; and on that note, I think it’s worth a brief recap.
Born in Gorton, Greater Manchester in 1975, Butt was part of the wave of “fledglings” that Sir Alex Ferguson inherited in mid-1990s. After developing through the youth academy along with the likes of Paul Scholes, David Beckham and the Neville brothers, Butt got his first regular chances of first team action in the 1994-95 season.
With Roy Keane more of a box-to-box midfielder and Paul Scholes a second striker at the time, Butt’s first team opportunities really began to increase when the holding midfield role was left vacant following Paul Ince’s departure to Inter Milan in 1995. He became an important part of United’s first team, until his first team chances began to diminish after United signed Juan Sebastián Verón in 2001.
Butt had been in the England set-up since making his debut against Mexico in 1997, and, following an injury to Steven Gerrard, was called up to Sven-Göran Eriksson’s World Cup squad in 2002. He may not have been well recognised for his role here at the time, but he became a genuinely integral part of the team: aside from missing the opening draw with Sweden, he went on to play every minute of England’s remaining games in the tournament.
Whilst the English press/public may have seen him as an inadequate understudy for Steven Gerrard, Butt earned himself quite a famous admirer for his performances at the tournament … Pelé. When pressed for his pick of the tournament before the quarter final against Brazil, the legendary striker said:
“The player I like is Butt. He’s been the best player up to this point. He’s a tremendous midfielder. He’s a good marker, he’s passionate, he gets forward and he passes well.”
Butt signed for Newcastle in 2004; he had a disappointing start at St. James’ Park, however, and was loaned out to Birmingham for the 2005-06 season. Upon his return to the north-east, Butt managed to regain his form and establish himself in the Newcastle first team, taking the captaincy from Michael Owen last season, following the notorious crock’s switch to United last summer. Last month, however, Toon manager Chris Hughton confirmed that Butt would be leaving the club.
What now, then, for Nicky Butt? Chris Hughton has said that he was uncertain whether or not Butt intends to retire. His availability has sparked the interest of a couple of clubs so far: Preston and Blackpool have both been linked with the midfielder. Butt has so far been quiet on the subject, and it remains to be seen if he will remain in football.
Preston would offer him the opportunity to play under Ferguson Jr., whilst Blackpool would give him one last crack at Premiership football. Ipswich Town, managed by his former team-mate Roy Keane, are also reported to be interested. Could Nicky Butt do a job for these sides? Or is he over the hill?
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