Daily Mail

I had to get out of United ...or I was gonna blow


- By Ian Ladyman Football Editor

THE first thing Nicky Butt wants to know is if anybody was at Wembley last Sunday. ‘I was there with my son,’ he says with a grin. ‘ It’s always amazing to win a cup, I don’t care what anybody says.’

Butt is 48 but still very much a child of Manchester United, a graduate of the old Cliff training ground, and all it still represents, that stands less than a mile away from where we talk.

Butt gave a decade of exemplary service to United as a player between 1994 and 2004. Almost 300 games, six Premier Leagues, three FA Cups, a Champions League. But his relationsh­ip with his old club has grown complicate­d. He still feels the pull of a place he essentiall­y grew up in. But after 10 years back at Old Trafford on the coaching and technical staff, he walked away unhappy and isolated almost exactly two years ago.

‘My vision and philosophy and what I was brought up on at United didn’t go with the people running the club, so it was time to leave,’ he reveals. ‘I’m not saying I was right all the time but I knew if I didn’t leave I was gonna blow. And that wouldn’t be good.’

And so, after all that, we are here. Sitting in a bar overlookin­g the pitch at Butt’s other football obsession, Salford City. Butt has part-owned the club with former

United team-mates Gary and Phil l

Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs s and David Beckham since 2014 4 and the group have overseen its s rise up the pyramid to League e Two. Now, as its recentlyap­pointed chief executive, Butt is charting the next step, towards League One and beyond.

His move from the grass to the CEO’s office came as a surprise to many and he was among them. ‘You don’t go through seven years of coaching badges to toss it off and not do it again,’ says Butt. ‘But I got to a fork in the road and I went the other way. I wasn’t happy at United so I left. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I was sick of people upstairs telling me about football. If I was to tell people in the boardroom how to run a football club they would just look at me, wouldn’t they?

‘But they have the right to talk about developing players? So I was p****d off about it. Eventually I left but before that I went and did a CEO course. I didn’t ever want to be one. I just wanted to be more in tune with a chief exec, to be more empathetic. But then the world spins round and all of a sudden last year this job comes up and here I am. I’m enjoying it.’

Currently in the play- of f positions, Salford have lofty ambitions. They recently looked at buying a bigger stadium only to learn the local council were purchasing it themselves. ‘I find it ridiculous a council can buy a £16million stadium when there are 42 per cent of people in Salford living in poverty,’ says Butt. ‘But what can we do?’

Salford have been in League Two since 2019 and Butt admits they have ‘ stagnated’. He knows sacking managers has not always helped. ‘ We’ve been hasty at times,’ he says. ‘Our background means we always want perfection but we have to realise we are a League Two team.’

The day we meet he has been talking about the price of kits for men’s, academy and ladies’ teams. ‘It’s a lot,’ he says with a smile.

That night it is off to Barrow — a 1-1 draw — after a weekend at Mansfield that had seen Salford win 5-2. ‘It was a good day,’ he smiles. ‘Their fans were giving us stick but we have had that all our lives at United.’

BUTT has left Manchester United twice in his life. Once for Newcastle United in 2004 and again, in 2021, for the wilderness.

‘Scholes and Roy Keane were better than me but I always played in the big games because we would play a three in midfield,’ he recalls. ‘So I was OK. Not always dead happy but OK.

‘ But I truly couldn’t stand players not as good as me playing instead of me. Kleberson, Eric Djemba-Djemba. Just because they had been bought. I couldn’t have it so I left. But it was hard.

The second time, time two years yea back, wasn’t hard because I realised I couldn’t be there anymore.’

After returning to United as a reserve team coach in 2012, Butt graduated to academy head and in 2019 was made head of firstteam developmen­t, reporting to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Butt left two years later and for a while life got difficult. ‘I could have stayed for 25 years and had a nice little job with my mouth shut but it’s not me,’ he says.

Butt is believed to have clashed with United’s football director John Murtough, promoted to the role shortly before he left. He soon sought a way back into football but it was a dismal experience.

‘I went to some interviews,’ he reveals. ‘ The England Under 21 job, Aberdeen, Huddersfie­ld. But I was 46 and realised I hadn’t done an interview in my life. I hated it. A lot of the people who go for football interviews, it’s bull****. You will have someone with a massive project on a screen but you can guarantee they haven’t done it themselves. So I couldn’t do it. I felt sick beforehand.

‘I’d rather sit like I am with you and have a chat over a coffee. I’d rather talk about my philosophy, about bringing young players through. Even though it’s not my philosophy at all, it’s what I was taught. I am just adding bits to it.

‘So I soon knew I was never going to get a job in football because I can’t talk the way people want me to. I just talk how I think is right.’

It seems strange, a waste, that so few of Butt’s generation of United players are now coaching. Butt, Scholes, Keane, Giggs. Lost to the game. ‘It is sad and a loss to us as well because we are football people,’ he says. ‘ But we are opinionate­d and have a belief of how things should run.

‘ The football side has to be fundamenta­lly driven by football people. Who can tell Giggs, Gary Neville, Scholes, Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher what’s right for United? But they do, so sometimes you have to die on your sword. Maybe I was a bit of a d**k (at United). But I have a massive bug about people who don’t know what it takes to be a footballer or do coaching badges.’

Part of what Butt left behind at United did their bit in winning the League Cup last Sunday. Marcus Rashford, for example, came through the system on Butt’s watch. ‘For talent, he is as good as anyone at what he does,’ says Butt. ‘He just has to believe that himself. But none of that success is on me. That’s part of what got to me at the club. Nothing is ever down to one person, right?

‘Marcus and the others started with United at seven. But all those people who worked with them on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings never get a mention. When people go, “We’ve done such

a great job by getting players X,Y and Z through”, it isn’t right. To get that boy from aged eight to the first team probably takes 50 people.’

Butt also worked with Mason Greenwood, currently suspended after allegation­s of attempted rape and assault, no longer being pursued by the CPS, were made against him.

BUTT does not discuss what United should do next but has no reservatio­ns about the talents of a player Jose Mourinho wanted for the first team when he was 15. ‘Jose was like: “Get him” but I told him he was still at school and there were laws,’ says Butt.

‘I said to Ryan [Giggs] recently that Mason is the only one that I have seen who could have come anywhere near him at 17. Cos he was that good. Ridiculous. We played Liverpool away in the academy. We were getting beat 2-0 and he came on. He scored leftfoot free-kick, right-foot volley, a header then a right-foot free-kick. You are looking at him thinking, “How can this boy not be the next big thing?”. Big, strong, quick.

‘I don’t know where the club go on this but as a footballer, yeah....’ Butt’s favourite United team was the Double-winning side of 1994. Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona. He loved their ability but also their team ethic, their fight.

He does not believe he sees enough toughness in some of those emerging from the academy system these days. When he was at United, he invited circus tumblers in to show a generation of young lads reared on a diet of TV and PlayStatio­ns how to fall.

He and Scholes used to take the bus to training at the Cliff but he says now: ‘It’s difficult because life has changed, hasn’t it? My lad has my Uber account so I can’t preach to these lads here, can I? The trick is how to get a germ of a reality check in to these young people in such a weird world.

‘Getting kids through the gates at somewhere like United is the easy part. If you can kick a football these days you get a chance at an academy. But once you get through the door it’s how you stay in there that matters and the football is only 60 per cent of that. Forty per cent is how you behave and work. You can always get better at football. It’s not as easy to get better at your personalit­y.’

UNITED are at Anfield tomorrow and lead great rivals Liverpool in the Premier League by 10 points and three places. It has been a while and Butt thinks it is significan­t. ‘United have gone past them football wise,’ he says. ‘Liverpool have a big job on their hands in the summer.’

In term of the long-term picture,

Butt is less sure. He sees and welcomes the improvemen­t under Erik ten Hag but feels United are trying to push their way back through a crowded, and wealthy, field. For a moment he has his CEO’s head on.

‘United could win the league, really,’ he says. ‘They could go in the back door. But I wouldn’t say United are back. Not a chance.

‘What Ten Hag is doing is great. He seems to be the man, not taking any c**p. He seems to have the respect of people above him. But they have to get better. Being fourth is not Man United. We used to finish second and were told if it happened again the next season we would be sold. Sold!

‘That was the mentality of the club back then. If you were gonna finish second you may as well finish seventh. The recruitmen­t team has a big job on its hands to get to the next level and if you have a team like City that keeps spending, it’s very difficult to catch up with them.

‘People keep saying how well United are doing but if they are going like that (he places his arm at an angle) then if you think City and Chelsea aren’t going like that in the background as well then you are wrong. There is still some catching up to do for United and I hope they can do it.’

Butt always thought he would work at Salford one day. It was

part of the long-term plan, maybe just not at this time and not in this role. Today Salford face Newport and the long haul to the League Two finish line has begun.

‘We have unbelievab­le staff here and I couldn’t run a club without them,’ he says. ‘But I am learning. I am getting better with the finances. It’s a group thing here. But I am the CEO and if things go wrong it falls at my feet.’

As for tomorrow, he will be tuned in to events at Anfield. Butt has been gone two years now and it has not been easy. I ask if sometimes he has felt resentful.

‘Sometimes I think certain people there will get credit and I can’t stand that,’ he says. ‘ But fundamenta­lly I go back to being 15 and right the way through to being 29 or 30 when I left. It’s my football club. It always has been. I love it. It’s engrained in me. My son was there.

‘The more you grow up and move away from it the more you realise you are not letting some bloke who has been there three minutes affect my feelings about my football club. So no is the answer to that. I did a couple of times. As you say, it’s human nature. Quite a lot of lads would say the same but ultimately that’s gone now. That bit’s gone.’

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 ?? PICTURE: IAN HODGSON ?? Now and then: Butt speaks to Sportsmail over a cuppa, and (right) squaring up to Sylvain Distin in 2004
PICTURE: IAN HODGSON Now and then: Butt speaks to Sportsmail over a cuppa, and (right) squaring up to Sylvain Distin in 2004
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