Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Butcher learns to relax

Terry Butcher.
Terry Butcher was no wallflower during his 28-year playing, managing and punditry career in Britain but he's quickly accepted needing to tone down his incendiary temper at Sydney FC in the A-League.

It's true, the legendary laid-back Aussie way of life is even getting to the former England captain, a man best remembered by finishing a 1989 World Cup qualifier swathed in bloodied bandages and putting his foot through a variety of dressing room doors the length and breadth of the country.

Butcher, it seems, has mellowed. The veteran of three World Cup campaigns and 77 national team appearances as well as one of the country's greatest football leaders of the past 20 years has been forced to, he says, after quickly discovering the Sir Alex Ferguson hairdryer school of management just didn’t wash with your modern Australian footballer.

He tried to make his pampered bunch at Sydney come around to the British mentality, naturally. But the methods he used to captain Rangers to three Scottish league titles and to a lesser degree help Motherwell's revival simply failed to have the desired effect, particularly after Butcher replaced soft-talking German perfectionist Pierre Littbarski at the start of the season.

The metamorphosis came about slowly, mind. Earlier this season, for instance, Sydney's usually affable left-back Alvin Ceccoli was suspended for swearing at Butcher after the coach had allegedly provoked him with a four-letter tirade of his own from the sidelines.

The former Ipswich centre-half, a self-acclaimed Norwich hater, also reportedly clashed with ex-Canaries midfielder turned Sydney assistant Ian Crook. The result was Crook was banished from the training ground before accepting a deal to join Littbarski at J-League second-division side Avispa Fukuoka.

But Butcher, who nowadays walks more gingerly than the commanding defender many might remember him, has admitted he's bowed to change and adapted to the Aussie way. "I have mellowed. You have to mellow out here," he told British football journalist Danny Kelly on the Times Online podcast last month. "It's a different culture.

"If you rant and rave and do that sort of thing, it doesn’t wash. Your man management skills have got to be a lot better. You've got to be closer to the players. You can't do those things.

"I tried early on, it didn’t work and I had to change. But you don’t drop your standards, your standards are still the same. But you get your message over in a different, more placid way because it is very laid back out here."

Butcher's adaptability has paid dividends too. From mid-season Sydney embarked on a 12-match sequence where they lost just twice and captured the fourth and final playoff position after earning a 1-1 draw in Brisbane. That came in spite of Butcher's anger at being docked three points by the governing body for financial irregularities relating to player payments last season - before he'd even arrived at the club.

Making matters worse, the press got whiff of Butcher's predicament when it was revealed the second year of his two-season deal was dependant on Sydney making the finals. Without the docked points, the reigning champions would have made them comfortably argued Butcher who reportedly starting seeking legal advice over his position.

But regardless it left Sydney travelling to fellow playoff hopefuls Queensland needing a draw to secure both a berth and Butcher's job despite the coach's protestations otherwise. "It was never about that. It was about getting to the finals," he snapped afterwards. "It was about getting second place. We should already be in second place because of the points taken off us but we're not.

"But I think we're there on merit considering the fact that we have accumulated enough points to be there already. 32 points after 21 games is not fantastic but it might have been enough to get second place but for the FFA.

"Despite all the hiccups and hurdles and everything else this season we're in the finals. Now we're there we aim to make an impact. Nobody wants to play Sydney home or away. They know what we can do."

Butcher's side now play state rivals the Newcastle Jets over two-legs to decide who will reach in the preliminary final and meet the loser of the other semi-final between Melbourne and Adelaide. With table-toppers Melbourne heading into the finals series in arguably the worst form of the lot, the experience of Butcher might well prove the difference.

"It's very similar to my experiences in World Cups and playing in big tournaments where you have a certain date when you can get knocked out," he said. "We reached that today but the departure date for us being knocked out has changed.

"You move forward to the next departure date. The last one is when we get to the grand final and hopefully win it."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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