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Where Did It All Go Wrong, Nicky?

After winning the European Cup in 1968, the final of 1999 couldn’t come soon enough for our club and fans. After a storming display in the Champions League, going through the group stages all the way through the semis without a single defeat, confidence was high. We’d won the FA Cup four days prior to the final, the league titles six days before that, and we were ready to claim the Treble, something we’d denied the dominant Liverpool side achieving in 1977.

Whilst immensely excited, there was this niggling feeling that we weren’t going to do it. Both Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were missing through suspension, meaning we would have to play in the European Cup final with a somewhat makeshift midfield.

Nicky Butt, who joined United when he was just 14-years-old, was given a starting place in the centre of the field, playing alongside his childhood team mates, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. Five years after he was embarrassed 4-0 on this ground, an inexperienced kid back then, Butt played for 90 minutes against Bayern Munich, lifting the European Cup at the end of it.

Between 1995 and 2002, Butt never played fewer 35 games for us in a season, proving himself as a valuable member of our squad. However, a change probably started following the summer of 2002, after Butt played for England in the World Cup.

“Butt, I think, is the best player of the tournament, for me,” said Pele. “The player who is so constant, good marking, pressure, is Butt. He’s the best player for me.”

Still, he wasn’t given the starting place for United, fighting out with Keane, Scholes and Veron for appearances. For years he had been rumoured to be on the way out, but the club were keen to cling on to him, even if they weren’t to start him.

“Nicky Butt is perfectly happy here,” said Sir Alex Ferguson in 2000, following reports linking Butt with moves to Sunderland and Everton. “He doesn’t always play but who does always play here at United? There is probably only Roy Keane who is there always playing every game because he is the captain. That is the position Nicky plays in. But, if you look in the record books and see the number of games Nicky has played in the last two or three years, he’s appeared in 35-40 matches a season. He did the same thing again last season and made a great contribution to the club. He always has. Nicky has picked up medals the same as everyone else and has never missed out on a thing. Nicky Butt leaving is just not on.”

Half way through the 2003-2004 season, Butt finally handed in a transfer request. He’d won six Premiership titles, three FA Cups, the League Cup, and the European Cup, but he was keen to establish himself elsewhere.

Since then, his career has slowly dwindled away, reaching embarrassing lows at times. His first season in the North-East was disappointing, consisting of injuries and poor performances. What Butt was lacking in ability before, he made up with his passion and dedication to the club. This other side of him was missing when he first moved.

Newcastle got battered 4-1 in the Cup by United, leading Butt’s new fans to turn on him. His display was lacklustre and was summed up by his mistake which handed United their third goal of the day. The summer came a couple of months later, by which point Newcastle had bought three players for Butt’s position in Amdy Faye, Scott Parker and Emre.

He was shipped off to Birmingham on loan to work with former United team mate, Steve Bruce, but wasn’t much more popular there. He walked out on team before Birmingham’s 3-0 defeat against West Ham, after making the journey down to London and hearing Bruce was player his son, Alex Bruce, in place of Butt. He was fined £80,000 and two months later Birmingham were relegated.

He returned to Newcastle and has finally managed to settle, becoming better liked by the fans and holding the position of vice-captain. However, the club has become a bigger joke than ever before over the past few months, with the rot of Butt’s career after leaving United continuing.

“We are down there and part of the battle at the moment,” Butt said today. “We started the season on a high. The first three games we started well. It is a rollercoaster – as it is every year here. The longer you are in there the more desperate you get.”

Did Butt make a mistake handing in his transfer request?

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. nagraj says:

    No he did not, and this whole article is one giant cheap shot at a dedicated servant to our club…
    Someone who unlike Johnny O’Shea isn’t content with riding the pine making 60k quid a week…

  2. corea says:

    he made his choise.
    thank you for the memories. *almost crying*
    keep writing please.

  3. denton davey says:

    Of course, he made a huge mistake – just like Phil Neville – in opting for the allure of playing full-time as opposed to winning, winning, winning.

    I, for one, hope that Wesley Brown, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park, and Jonny Evans have seen the wisdom of accepting a place on the chmapions’ bench – as opposed to the fantasy of going elsewhere. None of these guys – well, maybe Evans might grow into a first-teamer – are likely to ever be long-term, first-choice players for TheLads but all of them can (and do) have a vital role to play as a part of this team’s squad. And, besides, it’s not as if they get paid more to wear barcodes or other shirts.

  4. dvdpower21 says:

    He should never have left. As the article points out he was always playing 35/40 games a season so he was hardly out in the cold at United. As for the comment slagging off John O’Shea for staying – why wouldn’t he stay – he’s a valuable squad player who knows his limitations and place in the United pecking order. He knows he’s not going to start every week but does a great job as a squad player and is a loyal United player. It annoys me to hear fans giving O’Shea a hard time.

  5. phoenix red says:

    i remember Nicky fondly, and i’d hope that he moves onto better times!

  6. wiuru... says:

    Sad to see one of our own in this position . However, its history now and a pointer to other players who may think the grass is greener !!

  7. john ferry says:

    Always enjoyed (and still respect) his commitment on the pitch. He was always ready to battle.

  8. Malino Ubah says:

    What a sad ending of a player that once belongs to glory glory man utd team.We are praying for you,things will be well,amen.

  9. suhayl says:

    RESPECT butty..he was a loyal servant and top player for us. RESPECT sheasy too


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