It's been a topsy-turvy 2013-14 season for Manchester United, with everyone connected to the club feeling the strain of surrendering the Barclays Premier League title in subdued fashion.
The post-Sir Alex Ferguson era has been even more difficult than anticipated, and David Moyes' struggles have brought to light just how magnificent a manager the wiley old Scot was.
B/R had the chance to speak to Man Utd stalwart and current Under-21 manager Nicky Butt this week, so we quizzed him on all things transfers, Moyes, youth prospects, England and more.
Sam Tighe: There are numerous reports suggesting Manchester United will make big moves this summer. Is there anything you feel they need to do to get back to the top of the Barclays Premier League?
Nicky Butt: They've got a lot of great players in the squad. In the forward line and attacking midfield there's some world-class players all the way through there.
This season, Nemanja Vidic has signed over at Internazionale now and Rio [Ferdinand]...may be in his last year with the club, so we should be looking to add some players at the back. Maybe another one in midfield would be ideal, too, but it's about finding the players that fit the right bill and can come into a club like Manchester United and perform on the big stage.
The best players around Europe don't necessarily become greats at a club like this, you've got to have more about you and have the mental toughness to star every week.
ST: With United in need of reinforcements they're looking to spend. As manager of the Under-21 side, do you feel pressure to produce from within simultaneously?
NB: No, it's very laid back; pretty much as and when we're ready. There's no pressure on myself or my colleagues to get players through quickly. You do want to push players through, though, as it's in the history of Manchester United to produce.
Adnan Januzaj has come through this year and there's another in Jesse Lingard who's on the fringes of the first team, but there's no massive pressure.
We know it's our job to do so, but I think the manager will be looking to bring in some stellar signings and some players who are already established in Europe first—then, alongside them, we can then introduce young players and it becomes less of a daunting challenge.
You can't put too much pressure on young players to produce right away, you need experience around them. Youngsters can be very up-and-down; They can be on a high if everyone's talking about them, but washed up six months later if you're not careful with them.
ST: Has the Under-21 league gotten better with the changes introduced this year?
NB: It's not the usual run-of-the-mill league where you play home and away, it's a 21-game league with one-off fixtures with every club.
It's not a 40-game slog, and it's a nice challenge for the young players who adapt slowly [to competitive league football].
ST: James Wilson and Andreas Pereira are thought to be two of the brightest young prospects in the academy. How are they coming along?
NB: Both are coming along really well and they're both very different kind of players.
Wilson is very explosive, an out-and-out goalscorer with good pace and he's good size, too. At 6'2", he'll be a big strong boy in a few years' time.
He's still only 19, but he's one that, if he keeps his head down, could be a superstar in a few years. He's got a lot of work to do yet, but he could be as good as...anyone who's played for this club in a long, long time.
Andreas [Pereira] is different; more of a tricky player. He's Andres Iniesta-like coming off the left onto his right foot and can play from the right too.
He's very young too, still maturing, he needs to be aware it's not all about trickery and sometimes you have to show how good you are doing the simple things—then every now and then show a bit of magic.
If he learns that he can be a superstar, he's got the x-factor you need to play at this club.
ST: Switching the focus to England, Roy Hodgson looks set to play a 4-3-3 with Steven Gerrard as a deep-lying playmaker. Who would you play in the two central midfield spots ahead if you were the manager?
NB: You've got to help Gerrard. He's not getting any younger—and he's still a top, top player as he showed at Old Trafford last week—but you've got to try and protect him.
For the two spots ahead it's really anyone's game. Jack Wilshere is a top talent for England but he picks up a lot of injuries, so will he be fit in time? Who knows.
If you're a midfielder in this country at the moment and you're doing well, it's a great time to be here; Anyone can win one of those two spots.
Michael Carrick could slip in and play ahead, Tom Cleverley has taken a bit of stick recently but he's still a top player. [Roy Hodgson] keeps picking him so he does like him.
I don't know why Michael [Carrick] keeps getting overlooked; He's a top-drawer player and performs at the highest level week in, week out. He's been playing in the Champions League every year, so he's proven himself.
If I were picking I'd have Gerrard, Carrick and Wilshere—but we'll have to see how he comes back from that injury first.
ST: For Liverpool, Jordan Henderson's energy has been crucial around Gerrard. Is it vital for England to replicate that?
NB: You need a mixture of players if you're going to play in a 'three,' and if Gerrard is going to play a sitting role [in front of the back four] and do what he did at Old Trafford a week ago, you need to protect him.
Henderson has the legs, has the ability and he's on a high at the minute. His club's playing very well, and when you're going into a World Cup, form like that can only help.
There's a central berth up for grabs.
ST: Finally, Nicky, is David Moyes the man to take Manchester United back to the summit this summer?
NB: He's got a difficult job. Everyone talked a lot about how difficult it would be. Sir Alex Ferguson left and David Gill left, creating a massive hole in the club. The players are a year older. It takes time to settle in.
David's a great manager, very knowledgeable and ultra, ultra hardworking. He goes to every game he can, scouting constantly, trying to find players for the Manchester United mould.
He could be the right manager if given time, we hope he is, and he's the one Sir Alex, the club picked and the Glazers picked. There's a poster of him [Moyes] in the stands with the fans.
It takes time—whether he gets it or not—and needs a chance to stamp his authority on the club. He needs one or two more transfer windows to get the players he wants and we should judge him on that.
He's chased players and not been very successful and that's not all down to him; That's down to players, perhaps, not wanting to come to Man Utd at this time.
Over the last 10 or 20 years, if Utd came knocking players would swim across the Atlantic to sign up. At the moment that's not happening, so we need to get that pulling power back and I'm sure given time we can do that.
Nicky Butt was speaking on behalf of Barclays. This season Barclays is thanking fans, community heroes, players and managers for making the game what it is. Join the conversation using #YouAreFootball.
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