Butt grabs chance to impress

England international Nicky Butt is ready to take centre stage for Manchester United FC tonight.

A players' player
The former, a penalty-taking goalkeeper, is more likely to catch the eye. But if he does, it will be no reflection on the performance of his England international namesake. For Nicky Butt has made a career of the quietly effective, a player appreciated less by TV producers than by his peers.

Ready to take centre stage
Now, though, at 27, he is ready to take centre stage at the 'Theatre of Dreams'. Following the injuries to Roy Keane and David Beckham at RC Deportivo La Coruña earlier this month, Butt has stolen the midfield plaudits both for United and for England. Last week he starred in the national team's 4-0 dismantling of Paraguay, then helped his club side to an important 3-0 FA Premiership win at Chelsea FC.

Roy Keane's double
No wonder his manager is delighted with him. "Nicky Butt has been instrumental in our success," Sir Alex Ferguson said. "He has been first class and hit such form. He gives me hope that we can replace Roy Keane successfully." Filling in for Keane means reprising the role Butt performed to effect in the 1999 Champions League final, when United beat another German side, FC Bayern München.

Competing for honours
At most other clubs, Butt would be a first choice; at United, his hometown club, he at least has the recompense of competing for the game's top honours. In addition to his Champions League winner's medal - a competition in which he debuted at FC Barcelona's Camp Nou in 1994 - Butt has been an English champion five times. This in a career that has spanned 183 league starts since he made the transition from youth team to first team as one of Fergie's fledglings.

'One of the lads'
"The core of Manchester United is that group of players that grew up together," Sir Alex said. "Nicky is one of the lads. He has had his ups and down and hasn't changed. Some players have certain assets in terms of their attitude to life. A lot would have thrown the towel in years ago, but he knows when he has played, he has made a valid contribution to our success. He feels that contribution is worth him staying."

United success story
The popular Mancunian might be a part-timer in terms of starting football matches. Yet in terms of his continued support for the Manchester United success story, he is anything but.