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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Butt makes England tick
Nicky Butt speaks to the press on Awaji Island
Nicky Butt is getting the recognition he deserves
BBC Sport Online's chief football writer Phil McNulty, in Japan

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Nicky Butt has been transformed from his traditional role of unsung hero.

Now all England's key figures are singing hymns of praise to the World Cup squad's most under-stated member.

Butt looked to be on the fringe of coach Sven-Goran Eriksson's plans for the campaign in Japan in the closing weeks of the Premiership campaign as he was sidelined by a knee injury.

But as casualties piled up with Eriksson finalising his squad, Manchester United midfield man Butt has emerged from the pack to be an automatic choice as England close on history.

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard would have been chosen ahead of Butt - with Danny Murphy another possible contender - if fate had not played a hand and the Anfield pair suffered injuries.

Open Quote
He has got his chance now and everyone can see how good he is
Close Quote
David Beckham
Butt's lack of match fitness after injury forced him out of the opening game against Sweden.

And it is no co-incidence England's performances have moved on to a different level since he was reunited with his Old Trafford colleague Paul Scholes in the heart of midfield.

He gave one of the finest performances in his career in the win against Argentina, running the game from midfield in outstanding style, winning tackles and playing the passes that mattered.

Butt has built on that performance and will be vital to Eriksson's ambition of winning the World Cup quarter-final against Brazil in Shizuoka on Friday.

And when the media were allowed to watch a five-a-side England work-out at their Japanese training base in the build-up to the meeting with Brazil, it was an education to all of us who have doubted Butt's ability at the highest level.

In a five-a-side game played at high speed, with great technicians such as David Beckham and Teddy Sheringham on show, Butt looked the most comfortable player by some distance.

Butt will not over-state his own part in England's success, but his coach and colleagues have been forming a queue to emphasise his importance.

Eriksson said: "Nicky's performance against Argentina surprised me - but it was a very positive surprise.
England captain David Beckham
Captain Beckham is full of praise for Butt

"He played extremely well, a truly outstanding performance. You would not have known he had been away from the action for so long.

"Nicky is now a very important player for us."

Captain Beckham, a long-time friend and team-mate of Butt at Manchester United, has never doubted his quality.

He said: "To come in like Nicky has done, especially against Argentina, after so long out was fantastic.

We have all known for years how good Nicky is, he just needed the chance.

"He has got his chance now and everyone can see how good he is. Everyone who has played with him will tell you that.

"Nicky keeps things ticking over in midfield, and he was unbelievable against Argentina. He won tackles and some of the passes he played through were very important."

Scholes, who rivals Butt for the title of the quietest member of England's squad, is surprised that he has had his doubters.

He said: "Nicky Butt has been brilliant, but he has been like that for years and he is only starting to get the recognition he deserves now.

"For some reason a lot of people are surprised at the way he's playing, but anyone who knows him or has played with him knows what a great player he is."

Butt may not have the profile of Rivaldo or Ronaldo for Brazil, or Beckham and Michael Owen for England - but you will never hear Eriksson under-estimating his importance.


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England's Paul Scholes
"Nicky Butt is getting the recognition he deserves"
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"England have shown great spirit"
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