"He ticked all the boxes." Those were the rueful words of the Barnsley director Don Rowing today, after Terry Butcher had agonised over a decision to turn down the chance to take over at Oakwell.
It has taken two decades for Butcher to once more tick enough boxes of a second tier club in England. Scotland has offered a home and comfort to the former captain of England for years now, but it did not bring the quick fix to a managerial reputation that was left in disrepair after his first two postings at Coventry and Sunderland.
He was the youngest manager in the Football League at 31 when he headed south from Scotland and Rangers to take over at Highfield Road in 1990. Coventry survived relegation (an annual event) and were consolidating the following season when he was sacked. Butcher had won 20 games out of 60. It was not earth shattering, but then nor were Coventry's expectations.
Thirteen months later he took over at Sunderland, where he was again player-manager, re- registering himself. He won 13 from 43 this time. There was what could probably be most generously described as managerial naivety, where the will to win that made Butcher a formidable central defender who was capped 77 times for his country, got lost somewhere in translation.
He once turned up at St James' Park for a Tyne-Wear derby, when Newcastle were romping away with the then First Division, with a shaved head and told his stunned Sunderland players they were all commandos behind enemy lines and they had a mission to leave with three points. Sunderland lost and within six months Butcher had been sacked.
That was misplaced passion, according to a player who was given his chance to shine at Sunderland under Butcher.
"He gave me my debut so obviously you're eternally grateful," said Martin Smith, now a sports consultant at Base Soccer. "He only lasted 10 games but my initial impressions in the dressing room was he was more of a motivator. I would imagine the tactical side has come as he has become a experienced manager.
"He was very much up and at them, screaming and banging on doors, that was his way. I think the Yorkshire people would have liked him if he'd gone to Barnsley. He was all about determination, like when he was with England.
"I remember making my debut and I'd never even been in a first-team squad. Before the game, he called everyone over and said, 'Let's get in a huddle,' then he started roaring and stamping his feet. As an 18-year-old I'd never seen anything like it. I thought I'd better do my best and put a performance in because I don't want to see what he's like after! That was his passion. He wanted to make sure before the game we were bang up for it.
"He's been at Inverness a good few years now and he's had big cup results, he's flying in the league so he must be getting it right. Managers are just like players, they learn and they adapt as they get older. He's moved on and he's learned and he's become a successful manager."
The road back for Butcher from Sunderland has been long. After his dismissal, he returned to Scotland, to pulling pints in his hotel. Butcher was so keen to get back into football that he started making young players spaghetti on toast.
"When he came back to start his business in Scotland he was desperate to work and took a coaching job with Jimmy Nicholl at Raith," said Alex Smith, the Managers and Coaches Association's chief in Scotland. "He was making spaghetti hoops for the youth-team boys and driving them all over the country, but he loved it. That is the enthusiasm he has for the game. You can't underestimate just how massive a personality he is in England."
From that small inroad has come a very gradual rebirth of his managerial career. He went to Motherwell as No 2 to Eric Black, took over a club with major financial difficulties and reached the 2005 Scottish League Cup final, losing to Rangers. He went to Sydney and then Brentford and both spells ended in dismissal. He joined George Burley as No 2 with the Scotland team but the last three years, since taking over at Inverness Caledonian Thistle have been his best in charge. He turned a 16-point deficit to Dundee into a four point First Division title victory in 2010. They went unbeaten in the league away from home for the entirety of 2010. Unfancied Inverness finished seventh in the SPL in their first year back up but this season has been the real success story.
Inverness sit second in the SPL and that – plus a forthcoming cup semi-final – mean that England will have to wait for the return of Terry Butcher.
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