Sympathy for the Red Devil

Bill George spoke to Nicky Button his hopes of regaining a regular place in the Man United first team.

NICKY BUTT'S determination to win back a regular place in Manchester United's midfield is fuelled by his ambition to play for England in the European finals in Portugal this summer.

Butt, in Cork with United colleague Gary Neville for a charity promotion organised by the Cork Branch of the Supporters' Club, stressed that he only ever wanted to play for the club though he was placed on the transfer list by United in January.

He explained that the move was prompted by his need to play first- team football, a need that led to his knocking on the door of manager Alex Ferguson.

"The manager realised my situation and accepted that I needed football. We came to a mutual agreement that if the right club did come in then I would be happy to move on but it never happened.

"Now I'm still a Manchester United player, as I've always been, and I'll still give 100% in every game, like I've always done."

Butt was part of the golden crop of players who graduated to the United first team after winning the FA Youth Cup the Neville brothers, David Beckham, Paul Scholes were others. United's problems this season have hit him and his colleagues hard but he is not prepared to concede anything yet.

He admitted their prospects of retaining their Premiership title were not the best given Arsenal's impressive form but warned: "You never give up, especially with the players we've got in our squad.

"We are all winners, we are all ball- winners, and we've won numerous amounts of trophies.

"That doesn't mean anything if you're not doing it at the moment and things have not gone for us this season. We know as well we've got the ability in our changing rooms to beat anybody on our day but we've not played well this season.

"Some things have interfered that's no excuse but there have been things like the Rio situation, we've had injuries and suspensions, they haven't gone for us, but I'm sure when we get our game back on the ball we'll be as good as anybody."

Butt's inability to nail down a regular place caused him to worry about his international future.

"Yes, definitely, it's a great thing for anybody to play for their country and I'm no exception. I'm hoping to get to the European finals with England and I'll just keep my fingers crossed that I'll get a bit of luck and that I'll get a few games under my belt soon.

"I spoke to the England manager about it and he's assured me that if I get a few games and keep my match fitness I'll be okay. I know that if I put in the work in training and if I get the chance and play well then I can look forward to the summer."

The two Manchester United stars were mobbed by enthusiastic fans wherever they appeared during their whirlwind 24-hour visit to Cork.

Their visit was organised by Martin O'Neill, chairman of the Supporters' Club, and his committee, in association with the Irish Examiner.

United have a policy of supporting the many branches of their club throughout the world but what made their visit to Cork especially attractive for them was that the proceeds of a gala dinner went to benefit St Oliver's Ward of St Finbarr's Hospital.

NICKY BUTT, a close friend of Roy Keane's, took the opportunity provided by his first visit to Cork to renew acquaintance with Keane's parents, Marie and Mossie.

He and Neville were also able to spend some time with Denis Irwin's mother, Maura, and with Liam Miller's parents, Bridie and Billy.

"I am aware of the great interest in United in Ireland and especially in Cork.

"I'm very close to Keaney and I know his family quite well and they've always talked about how big it is over here.

"It's my first time and although I've been here only a few hours I know straight away how big Manchester United are over here," Butt said.

"I know all the names of the Cork people who were with Manchester, like Noel Cantwell and Frank O'Farrell.

"Shay Brennan is a Manchester player who I know was in Waterford where John O'Shea comes from and he was a friend of my Dad's as well, so there's lots of ties between United and this part of the world."

Butt was totally forthcoming and affable when he met with the United supporters at the entertaining question and answer session but underpinning his good humour was an obvious desire to fulfil a great mission.

He said: "If you are playing at Manchester United you are playing at the highest level and if you are happy in your life as well no one is going to leave Manchester United.

"Unfortunately it's not been going well for me this season.

"I've not played a lot and at the end of the day I'm a footballer, I don't want to sit on my backside and just take my money each week.

"I want to be playing football and enjoying myself and that's why I'll continue to work as hard as I can to get back."

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