Nicky Butt: Midfield Engine

Nicky Butt: Midfield Engine

Player Profile: Nicky Butt

Date of Birth: 21/01/1975

Height: 1.78 m

Position: Midfielder

National Team: England

International Caps: 39

International Goals: 0

Club Career

It was evident from the start that Nicky Butt was not as technically gifted as his ‘Class of 92’ teammates Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, and Paul Scholes. But despite his lack of flair, Butt fashioned himself into a hardworking, tenacious and clever midfielder who went on to have a long and successful career.

After spending many years as a youth team player at Manchester United, the Gorton-born player made his first-team debut at the end of the 1992-93 season against Oldham Athletic. Butt would later recollect how he found out he was making his debut when United manager Alex Ferguson told him to ensure his parents were present to watch the game. 

Around this time he played mainly with the reserve side, making the occasional first-team appearance and was given the Denzil Haroun award for the best reserve team player in 1993-94. He was promoted to the first team the next season, often coming off the bench to add to the 11 starts that he made.

It was not until the 1995-96 season that Butt was given a real opportunity to shine with Ferguson overhauling his squad and promoting academy youngsters to the first team. The experiment ended up being a huge success. Butt made 41 appearances in all competitions and played a big part in United winning both the Premier League and FA Cup. 

He was again instrumental the next season as United won the league, making 36 appearances in all competitions. That would also end up being his most fruitful season in front of goal with Butt scoring six times. 

Manchester United did not win the title the following season, but it was a fruitful one for Butt. In the absence of the often-injured Roy Keane, Butt thrived in the heart of United’s midfield and earned a place in the PFA Team of the Year.

The 1998-99 campaign was historic with United winning the Premier League, the FA Cup, and the Champions League and Butt played a key role. Despite having to come off the bench several times during the season, Butt did not disappoint when called upon. He proved how reliable he was throughout the treble-winning campaign, especially in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich.

Butt made 28 league appearances the following season as United romped to another Premier League title. He also scored for the club in the Club World Cup against Vasco de Gama, despite the club failing to make it past the group stages.

Another outstanding season in 2000-01 saw Butt play an important role in central midfield again, rotating with Keane and Scholes. He made 24 starts in the league and eight in Europe. Manchester United completed another league title – their third in a row.

Butt would spend another three years at Old Trafford. However, his role steadily diminished with the emergence of talented youngsters and the signing of new players. He left the club in 2004 after winning six Premier League titles, three FA Cups, one Champions League, and one Intercontinental Cup.

After United decided to sell him, Butt decided a move to the north-east was his best option as Newcastle United came calling. However, his first season was hampered by injury and he struggled to establish himself at St. James’ Park, making only made 18 appearances. At the end of the season, some fans had turned on Butt claiming he was not good enough and blamed him for the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United.

After the arrival of Scott Parker and Emre at Newcastle, Butt found opportunities hard to come by. He then moved to Birmingham City on loan, where his former teammate Steve Bruce was the manager. Butt was unable to save Birmingham from relegation that season and returned to Newcastle after making 24 league appearances, scoring three goals.

The 2006-07 season saw Butt enjoying a good year under Glenn Roeder. He excelled as a holding midfielder, working his way into the good books of Newcastle United fans and filling in as captain occasionally. Things soured again though when Newcastle United were relegated at the end of 2008-09 season. Butt opted to stay with the club – the first time in his career, he had played outside the top flight – and helped them bounce straight back to the Premier League. Despite a less than ideal start to his time at Newcastle, Butt departed the club as club captain at the end of the season.

While it was initially thought that Butt would call time on his career after his stint at Newcastle, he surprised everyone by agreeing a move to South China in the Hong Kong League. He scored a free-kick and missed a penalty in his very first game for the club. The midfielder spent only three months at the club, making 13 appearances, before calling time on his career.

International Career

Nicky Butt was initially brought into the England side as cover during the 1996-97 season, and that was a status he retained for most of his international career. 

He won his first England cap against Mexico in 1997, replacing Liverpool winger Steve McManaman. However, he was not picked for the 1998 World Cup with manager Glenn Hoddle preferring a midfield partnership of Paul Ince and Paul Scholes. He was also not selected in England’s Euro 2000 squad.

However, Butt had a lucky break before the 2002 World Cup when an injury to Steven Gerrard meant he was thrust into a first-team role. It was an opportunity that he made the most of, ending the tournament as one of England’s standout players. His hard work in midfield, breaking down attacks, meant that more creative players like Beckham and Scholes had the freedom to push forward.

However, after the World Cup, he found opportunities hard to come by. Despite being selected for the Euros in 2004, Butt did not feature at all due to an injury. His last international cap came in a friendly against Spain in 2004.

Where is Nicky Butt now?

After retiring, Nicky Butt did not take too long before moving into coaching. In 2012, he returned to his former club Manchester United as a reserve team coach. Four years later, he was promoted as their Academy head, replacing former teammate Brian McClair.

Butt also had two interim roles with the club. Once, he filled in as Under-23s coach following the departure of Warren Joyce. He also served as assistant manager to Giggs, when the latter was installed as a caretaker manager following the sacking of David Moyes in 2014.

In 2019, a restructure at the club saw Butt take up the role as head of first-team development, reporting directly to United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. One of the most important parts of his role has to do with helping youth team players make the transition to the first team, with Butt being instrumental in the development of Brandon Williams and Tahith Chong.

Butt, along with his fellow ‘Class of 92’ players Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Gary Neville, and Phil Neville, is a part-owner of Salford City FC. 

The midfielder has also featured in testimonial matches for his former Manchester United teammates including Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.

Did you know? Interesting facts about Nicky Butt

– During the 2002 World Cup, Pele once famously described Butt as England’s most dangerous player.