Butt determined to find next Giggs, Neville or Scholes
Nicky Butt sat down with MUTV to give his first interview since taking over as Manchester United's Head of Academy...
Congratulations, Nicky. What is your reaction to the new job?
I’m very proud. I think it’s a massive job and something I’m going to be passionate about. If I’m honest, it wasn’t in my mind a year ago but this opportunity has come around and thankfully it’s come to the point when I took it on board. Now it’s time to move forward and move the club back to where we feel it should be – we’re still producing some great players for the first team, as we’ve always done for many, many years but we always need to look forward. We can’t stand still as a team in any area of the club. I’ve had reassurances about where we’re going so it’s all positive.
It completes a journey from being here as a youngster and now heading the Academy itself...
It does. When you come as a young kid, passionate about football and my local team, certainly one you support all your life, you start at this club with your eyes wide open and so is your mouth. You can’t believe the size of the place but slowly and surely you get used to it and it becomes just part of your life. When you’re younger, you take it for granted. I think you do, so credit to the people that have run this club for so long and worked here to keep you grounded and make you welcome. They change your mindset so it becomes the norm, which it is not really – playing for such a big club like this at any age group is not the norm. Most kids around the world would die for this, so it was massive for me as a kid, big when I got into the first team, big when I came back to do my coaching and it is again now I’m heading the Academy.
You come into the role with things in a promising position as a number of youngsters have been given a chance, with some profiting from injuries, but they have climbed up the ladder...
I think you’re right but, in saying that, everyone profits from people getting injured or suspended. It’s the case for any player coming in. When we started out, with the foreign rule in Europe, it was when we started our games. Everybody needs a bit of luck. In fairness, the lads who have come in last year and this year have taken their chances. Credit all the coaches who have had them since seven, eight or nine and it’s something we’re very proud of. No-one else can touch our club with our pathway for the players to come through. We speak to the parents very passionately about it and the evidence is there for all to see. There are not many clubs I can think of that produce that pathway. We’ve done that very well for many years but, as I said a second ago, we can’t stand still. We must move forward with every aspect of the Academy and it starts with me taking over and moving forward.
Is it exciting, having made the journey yourself to take this role and look to make a difference?
That’s what a Manchester United player’s job is – to make the difference. You don’t just come here to play 10 games and move on to another club. We want them to be here for many years. We want another Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville or Paul Scholes, these one-club guys who play here for many years and contribute to the club. That’s what our aim is. We’re very proud when they make their debuts, very proud when they have careers in the Championship and League One but, ultimately, the aim is to provide top-class players for Manchester United that can go on to win the Champions League. We know it’s very, very hard to do that but it has got to be the ultimate goal and everyone knows that. Everyone is focused on that so we then pass on the challenge to the players to take the chances when they get them, keep them grounded as good human beings. A massive part of the Academy is to keep them grounded and not give them too much because, like I said, there’s a lot of stuff in the papers about how other clubs have got x, y and z. We don’t believe they should have that much at an early age. We keep them grounded and humble with the right facilities for the team to play in but, as important as the good things, we’ve got to make it hard for them as well. A lot of lads get it too easy and, when it becomes hard, they don’t know how to deal with it. It’s our job to find the balance.
Ryan, Gary, Paul and yourself have said sometimes you need it tough because it makes you stronger in the long run...
In football, or any walk of life really, it’s not always going to be easy with pats on the back and talk of how well you’re doing. You’re coming up against hurdles quite a lot and getting a lot of stick from certain individuals in the media, where you live, out in Manchester. If you’re too soft, you’re not going to be able to deal with that. You’ve got to have great facilities, which we feel we’ve got here, but you need a lot of tough things as well. You can be having everything easy – training grounds like villages, everything like looking through a crystal ball or with rose-tinted glasses. You’ve got to have a bit of the hard stuff as well, got to have a bit of a slog, play on bad surfaces, sometimes play against bad teams, bad crowds, with wind and rain-swept pitches. Football is not always about Old Trafford, the Nou Camp or the Bernabeu.
How do you think the young Nicky Butt would have reacted if he was told he'd be doing this job at the club?
Well, I’d like to think I was quite an open-minded young lad; it’s one of the reasons why most of us had good careers here. You can’t be too single-minded about 'I won’t do this or won’t do that'. You don’t know what is around the corner. I would probably have laughed at you because, as a kid, you just want to play football and concentrate on football, not worry about being 40. I’d probably think I’d not even make 40 to be honest with you! It’s a massive honour and I never thought it would come. When I finished playing football, I thought that was me through with football but slowly and surely the burning desire grew back to come into coaching and things happen and fall into place. Hopefully, it’s the right thing to do, I can do a good job and the pathway will continue but you never know what’s around the corner.
You've coached the Under-19s – is that something you enjoy doing and what has led to this?
It’s something I enjoy doing and something I’m obviously passionate about. It’s something I want to do in the future; whether or not it’s the immediate future or a long way further down the line, I’m not so sure. I’m not too old just yet and there’s plenty more time to do that type of thing. It’s a massive job I’ve been given and I’m grateful for this opportunity. It’s a big job but I thought it was important for somebody to take over who knows the ins and outs of the club, how it works and knows how to get through the grades. It’s all well and good people outside coming to talk to 12, 13, 14-year-olds and say they’ve done this badge, that badge, this university study and they know what it is but, a lot of the time, they don’t. There may be very clever people around the country doing this job who are astute in what they do and probably excelling at what they do far better than me in most things. But, ultimately, football clubs are about football and producing footballers. I don’t think I’m blowing my own trumpet when I say I’ve done that and know what they’re feeling when they’re down because they’ve been beaten 3-0 or 4-0 by City, things are not going well at school or not going well at home. Whatever the case may be, in that sense, I’m pretty high up the ladder if you like. There are things I’ve got to learn but I’m pretty good at learning as well. I learn on the job and the people around me who have been here a long time can help me too.
You've learned a lot from some very experienced managers and people around the club...
Obviously the one that jumps out is Sir Alex but I worked with Sir Bobby Robson at Newcastle as well. Some great people and great personalities. It’s just really taking bits from everywhere and doing what I think I’m good at. I’m not saying I’m great at the administrative role – I won’t be. I’ll concentrate on what I feel I’m good at and the rest of it will be supported by people in that part of the job. In days gone by, it was a one-man job but it’s a massive, massive job for one person. Choccy [Brian McClair] did it a long time and it was great how he did it but coming in now, with the admin role, looking after the staff and the football side, it’s such a big job and it may be time this type of job is for more than one person. So we are looking at bringing more people in to support me as well and these are exciting times in that sense. I want to concentrate on what I’m good at and what I can bring to the table.
The Class of '92 was something special to achieve for the players but also for the coaching staff as well...
It’s very special and part of the club’s history and what the club goes back to – always bringing young players through and putting them with superstars who can come and change games. That’s important but also it’s important we identify young players at an early age and bring them into the club to develop them. We can act quickly and bring them into our set-up early doors so they can learn the Manchester United way both on and off the pitch. If we do that and when we do that, that’s when we can stick our chest out proudly and say we’ve produced a great player for our first team. There are not many big clubs around the world who do that; only a handful of really big clubs that do that and we’re one of them, and it’s something we’ve got to keep doing. It’s something we’re proud of, we can never lose and it’s important to me and all the staff.