Butt attacks 'backwards' Newcastle

Midfielder says club needs someone to come in and carry out total overhaul

By Michael Walker
Wednesday 18 March 2009 01:00
Nicky Butt has played under six managers since joining in 2004
Nicky Butt has played under six managers since joining in 2004

Nicky Butt has delivered a scathing appraisal of the state of Newcastle United, in which the midfielder describes the Magpies as having gone backwards, and being in need of "someone to come in and change the whole club".

These are strong words from one of the few figures left within St James' Park who commands respect. It has not always been that way for Butt, who has had to earn his place in the supporters' hearts after a difficult start, and his colleagues now require the sort of retrieval of reputation that Butt has won following his return on loan from Birmingham City three seasons ago. It was not easy for Butt, 34, and it will not be easy for the others.

Newcastle are dangling by a thread above the relegation zone. Only goal difference keeps them above Stoke City and Portsmouth and, as has been said since Christmas, the Magpies have the sort of run-in that shreds. Next up are Arsenal, then Chelsea.

They are not alone in their queasiness – Middlesbrough and Sunderland can hardly be complacent given their fixtures – but the demeanour, tone and use of language by coach Chris Hughton after Saturday's unconvincing performance at Hull revealed sincere internal concerns about surviving relegation this season.

What Butt has done is address this in a broader context. Until recently it would be Shay Given's unwelcome role to speak of the "direction" of the club, but Given has been sold and so it is Butt, after one win in 11 league games, who said: "We have gone backwards in the last few years and we are under no illusions what we have to do. We have some massive games ahead. We have to keep this club in the Premier League. We need to put this season to bed and kick on next season. You seem to say that a lot at Newcastle."

Indeed. The concept of the transitional season has not been copyrighted by Newcastle United – as far as we know – but there does appear to have been a determination to make it Tyneside's intellectual property. This is the fifth season in succession in which the manager on the season's opening day has not been in place on its final one.

The last Newcastle manager to go from start to finish was Sir Bobby Robson in 2003-04, when Newcastle came fifth, four points off a Champions League place.

With Robson still in charge, Butt arrived in the summer of 2004 from Old Trafford, yet he appeared only four times for Robson, who was sacked that September. Since then, Graeme Souness went in February 2006, Glenn Roeder in May 2007, Sam Allardyce in January 2008 and Kevin Keegan in September 2008.

It is an unsustainable pattern of interruption that has led the club to where it is now, feverishly awaiting the results from Stoke and Hull. Joe Kinnear was Butt's sixth manager at Newcastle and, due to his heart surgery, Kinnear is not there at present.

Butt may have been relieved to hear the word seeping from the club on Sunday morning that a seventh – a new interim manager – was not going to be appointed until the end of the season or until Kinnear's return – although that is an assumption regarding Butt's view.

During the course of his interview, Butt was asked about Kinnear and the 62-year-old's effect since coming in as a firefighter after Keegan.

While saying Kinnear was "not one for putting on great coaching sessions day to day", Butt also paid Kinnear a real compliment. "He came in under pressure and shock. He took it on the chin. In football you see a lot of bluffers, Joe is not one of them. He tells you to your face and that is what the players like." Medically, if Kinnear's heart bypass operation has been successful, there should be the possibility of a full recovery, and Kinnear spoke of the offer of a new long-term contract before falling ill. The managing director Derek Llambias appears to envisage Kinnear being manager come August.

The tenor of Butt's comments was not revolutionary yet his remark that Newcastle need "someone to come in and change the whole club" will require further explanation. Llambias and Kinnear will presumably wish to know if Butt was referring to the boardroom or the dugout, or to both.

They can watch Butt speaking on the BBC's website. The corporation is sure to be monitoring events at St James' Park carefully as next season, under the new television deal, the BBC will broadcast 10 Championship matches live.

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