Butcher relishing Aussie adventure
For years, decades even, Terry Butcher was considered the epitome of British football. From his days as an imperious, uncompromising centre-half with England and Rangers to his time as a fist-clenching, door-kicking manager at Motherwell, the Singapore-born 47-year-old certainly fitted an archetypal mould.
Now, however, he could not be further away, either geographically or in football terms, from the country in which he made his name. The reputation he built in taking Motherwell from bankruptcy to top-half finishes and a cup final evidently did not go unnoticed, not even on the other side of the world, where in May Australian A-League champions Sydney FC offered the former England captain the chance to succeed Pierre Littbarksi as their head coach.
It was a life-changing opportunity too good, too intriguing, to turn down and, since grasping it, Butcher has thrown himself headlong into the brave new world of Australian football. Not that it has been easy. Nevertheless, while watching Dwight Yorke make the opposite journey by returning to Britain combined with seeing Melbourne Victory open up a seven-point lead has not made for the ideal start, the challenge Down Under evidently remains as appealing as ever to Butcher himself.
FIFA.com: So Terry, how are you and the family settling in to life in Australia?
Terry Butcher: It's been great. I was here briefly in 1980 and '83 as a player, and I think that is possibly the most beautiful city in the world. We're not far from Bondi beach, either, and the lifestyle is brilliant. I've got my barbecue set up and everything! I've been lucky, too, to go from Scotland, where the people are great, to another country of really friendly people who love their sport.
You had built up a good reputation in Scotland. Did you not have any thoughts of holding out for the Rangers job perhaps, or something in England?
Part of me did, yeah, and there was always loads of talk. The Ipswich job actually came up just after I'd agreed to come here and, ordinarily, I would have loved to have returned to where it all started for me. But I would never gone back on my word to come to Australia and the time was right to make a change. I've no regrets either. I love it out here and the challenge of helping build not only the club, but the league, is one that I'm really enjoying.
There are things I miss about Scotland. It's friends mostly, like Maurice and Maria Malpas (Maurice, formerly Butcher's assistant at Motherwell, is now the club's manager). But email is a wonderful thing and we've managed to keep in touch, although the time difference is a killer.
You've gone from a country where football is by far the most popular sport to one where the game is still establishing itself. What are your early impressions in that respect?
You certainly get the sense that this is a real fledgling league. In Scotland and England, there is history and tradition at almost every club you visit. Here, everything's very new and that's something totally different to what I've been used to.
There is a definite desire, though, to make football the number one sport and the people in charge certainly look to be putting in place strong foundations for that to be able to happen.
You look in the papers at the moment and it's all rugby, Aussie rules and now cricket's getting big again with the Ashes coming, so there are a lot of sports jostling for column inches. It's a very competitive sporting environment, but fortunately the TV interest has picked up since the World Cup and, brick by brick, we're getting there.
We just need to translate the massive enthusiasm there is for the Socceroos into a passion for the A-League and it's obvious to me that there's significant progress being made. We had over 40,000 fans along to our game at Melbourne, which would have been unheard of for a football match, save maybe for the Grand Final, and that's the way things are going.
Are there any major areas of improvement needed?
Well, the clubs still don't have any youth policies and that's something we have to improve on. Things are being put in motion, though, and once we get schools of excellence set up like they have in Scotland, hopefully what you'll see is the best young players starting their careers with Australian clubs rather than going straight to Europe. I'd love to oversee something like that being set up here and I don't think it's far off.
Has it been strange going from being the underdog, as you were at Motherwell, to being in charge of the reigning champions and the team that everyone wants to beat?
It does take a bit of getting used to. I must admit, I had to come to thrive on being the underdog at Motherwell, but a big part of my career was spent at Rangers, so this isn't new to me. It was one of the aspects of the job that really appealed actually - the chance to fight it out at the top end of the table - and at the moment it's a tough battle for us.
We've had a lot of things thrown up to test us already and Melbourne have been in fantastic form, winning all their games, so they've been able to build up quite a commanding lead. It's good for the league, though, to have that kind of competition and, although it's going to be tough to claw it back now, it's a challenge I'm relishing.
The problem here is that it's a very short season. It's still not a sprint, but it's not a marathon either - more of a 1500-metre race, really - so you can't afford to give teams a lead. But there's still a lot more to come from us and our aim is still to win the title.
Obviously one of your major early problems was the loss of Dwight Yorke. How big a blow was that, and how far will this week's signing of Benito Carbone go towards offsetting it?
It was a massive blow because he wasn't only our marquee player - he was our best player.
That's why getting in someone of Benito's quality is such a boost. He's only joining for four games at the moment, but from seeing him in training I know what we will bring to the team. He's bubbly, bright, skilful and he'll give us a few different options.
Strangely enough, since Dwight left we've actually improved, and the character of the players has shone through. They're good lads, I must say, they train well, and they're getting used to what's expected of them as champions. Bit by bit, I think they're also getting used to me…