Butt knows Newcastle's bottom line is success

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The sight of Karel Poborsky tormenting the Dutch defence in the European Championship gives the lie to the assertion that life after Manchester United must necessarily be downhill.

The sight of Karel Poborsky tormenting the Dutch defence in the European Championship gives the lie to the assertion that life after Manchester United must necessarily be downhill.

Traditionally, the post-Old Trafford model has been Lee Sharpe: Leeds, Bradford, Torquay, broke. Or Nobby Stiles - banished from Sir Matt Busby's office without a pay-off and making his way to Middlesborough with two ruined knees and £2,000 from the sale of his house in Stretford.

For Nicky Butt the descent might be a gentler one. Newcastle are not going to match the European Cup he won in Barcelona in 1999, let alone his six championships. But should he be wearing a black-and-white shirt when Newcastle win so much as a League Cup, he will find the outpouring of emotion the equal to anything he has heard at Old Trafford.

His departure is part of the slow break-up of the Manchester United side founded on the remarkable group of players who won the FA Youth Cup in 1992. David Beckham, the last to break through into the first team, was the first to leave.

"Players have come and gone from Manchester United who were 10 times better than I was or David Beckham was and the club has carried on," Butt said yesterday. "They will go on from there but what they do now doesn't concern me. I am a Newcastle United player."

In December, Butt met Sir Alex Ferguson to deliver a transfer request. It was not just the elevation of Phil Neville into a holding midfield role which cost him his place; there was also the rise of Cristiano Ronaldo and the signings of Eric Djemba-Djemba and Kleberson, ball-winners both.

It would have been kinder had he not been hauled off to join Manchester United's impossibly dreary summer tour of the United States, but with their squad short on stars Ferguson needed every name he could get. Butt might have a low profile, but Pele considered him the best player of the 2002 World Cup.

"I want to make an impact," he said. "If you look at their fans, the signings they have made, then Newcastle deserve their trophy. I need challenges; I don't want to be sat there week in and week out putting the shirt on and knowing, even if I'm playing badly, I'll be pulling it on. Competition has to bring the best out of you."

Before the England squad departed for Portugal, Beckham remarked that "every squad needs a Nicky Butt". Newcastle do more than most. For the past few seasons Sir Bobby Robson's midfield has been like a David Gower innings; always attacking and sometimes vastly entertaining, but liable to implode for any reason.

At United Butt was given his chance, as a 20-year-old, to replace Paul Ince, who irritated Ferguson by his insistence that he was a box-to-box attacking midfielder when his manager considered his best position was in front of the back four. That is where Butt will play at St James', giving Newcastle, in Sir Bobby Robson's words: "more defensive balance".

But should Jonathan Woodgate fail to start the season, then Newcastle's defensive balance will be out of kilter from the off. Robson said Woodgate, who sustained a serious rupture of his thigh against Chelsea in April, had felt a reaction in training and might miss the opening game with Middlesborough and perhaps England's game against Ukraine at St James' Park.

Robson was irritated by the continuing difficulties in bringing in the Portuguese full-back Miguel, for whom Benfica are now demanding £9.9m. This price has risen significantly since Euro 2004, and Robson's words yesterday contained a veiled criticism of his chairman, Freddy Shepherd.

"I have spoken to the chairman about this all summer," Robson said. "I spoke with him midway through last season about what would be required to make the situation better and it's taking a lot longer than I would have thought." His mood did not improve when Butt was asked how far Newcastle were behind Manchester United: "He can't answer that question, he's only just arrived. Ask him in a year. He can't know how far Newcastle are behind, how can he?"

It seemed too cruel to suggest that playing in a United side who scored six times at St James' Park a couple of seasons ago might have given Butt an inkling.

* Alan Shearer says he hopes to be Newcastle manager at some stage. The 33-year-old, who retires at the end of the season, has obtained his Uefa B coaching licence and will work for his A licence during the season.

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