Football - Butt calls for youth shake-up

Nicky Butt has called for the number of games at Under-18 level to be slashed in order to aid the development of young players.

A member of the famed 'Class of 92', Butt is presently in charge of the Manchester United side competing in the inaugural UEFA Youth League.

Though the 38-year-old accepts the set-up is not perfect given it ring fences the clubs competing in the Champions League, and therefore offers no guarantee of continuity, the former England international believes it is an invaluable part of players' education.

If anything, Butt does not believe it goes far enough.

He feels in order for young players to maximise their potential, they need to be exposed to more styles of football, rather than the week-to-week domestic combat.

"People keep saying things are not right but no-one does anything about it," he said. "We just go round in circles.

"Unless the games schedule drops, we stop worrying about the young kids winning and concentrate more on educating them for the future, nothing will change.

"We are obsessed by games. Why not reduce the number at Under-18 level from 30 to 20 and let the FA or Premier League provide the finance for teams to go across Europe for a week.

"Have mini competitions. Get three or four valuable 90 minute games in with a bit of a crowd.

"There is no better education than playing foreign teams. Even if you get beaten by four or five, you will learn more than another game against rivals you have had since you were 12.

"You don't learn anything from that."

Having spent his formative years in the United youth system before breaking into Sir Alex Ferguson's first-team squad, eventually making 387 appearances and winning 39 England caps before spending time at Newcastle and Birmingham, Butt could be expected to have strong views on England's youth structures.

However, having joined United's coaching staff, where he works with Warren Joyce at reserve level and takes charge of the club's Under-19 side, along with Paul Scholes, for their European campaign, Butt has a unique insight into the problems facing the game in this country.

"We are well behind," he said.

"We (Class of 92) were lucky because of the foreigners rule in place at the time. The manager was forced to play us in Europe.

"Now UEFA have started this competition, yet we don't even have Under-19s football. It goes straight from 18 to 21, which is a massive leap.

"There is so much education you still need during those years.

"Even when we played it took us four or five years to get used to it.

"We were getting beaten, getting knocked out, giving stupid fouls away, daft penalties, getting used to how players from other countries play, understanding the referees are different.

"Even the way players approach referees or speak to them is different.

"You can play as many top English teams as you like but it is still blood and thunder. To develop properly, exposure in Europe is essential."

The UEFA Youth League is helping Butt's coaching development too.

To see him on the sidelines in Leverkusen last week, cajoling young players and, on occasion, berating match officials as United slipped to defeat - and had two players sent off - was a study in itself.

It definitely indicated future management potential, should that be an avenue Butt wishes to pursue.

"I am getting better," he said.

"At first I wasn't very comfortable stood on the line, putting instructions out. I had never done it before.

"I am making a conscious effort to not tell them what to do all the time. I want them to solve things themselves.

"At 19, if you give them too much information they get bamboozled with it all, and I am very aware this team is only working together for a couple of days before each of these European games and quite often is playing against teams who have been together for years.

"I have worked with some great managers, and obviously the best one in Sir Alex.

"I am learning from the coaches who are at United now, some of whom have been coaching and managing for 20 or 30 years.

"You have to be your own man but I would be foolish if I didn't pick up little bits from other people.

"Eric Harrison was obviously an important figure in my football life. There were times when I hated him. But the things he got me - and the other lads - to do were right.

"Before that we had Brian Kidd and Nobby Stiles.

"It is brilliant to work with those people. You knew they had been there and done it.

"Hopefully the present generation think that about myself and Paul Scholes."