South China seek path to glory with Nicky Butt
'I'm no crusader,' said South China's temporary recruit Nicky Butt yesterday after accepting the jersey he will wear tonight in his first competitive game since May.
The cause that has brought the former England and Manchester United midfielder to Hong Kong for the First Division encounter against TSW Pegasus tonight has taken on an evangelical overtone, as the Caroliners hope Butt can deliver them to the promised land - a place in the Asian Football Confederation Cup in 2012, the first rung on the championship ladder.
'We hope he can take us into the [Asian] Champions League,' said South China chairman Steven Lo Kit-sing. 'He has come and we hope he will be with us for a long time.'
Butt said he would decide 'within the next couple of days' whether to stay on into the new year and help South China in their AFC Cup campaign - the preliminary qualifiers for the Champions League.
Both parties seemed to be happy yesterday and it's almost a done deal. Lo was thrilled he had a household name, albeit one from yesteryear, while Butt was happy he had found a fresh challenge.
'This is what I was looking for - something new and exciting,' said the 35-year-old Butt, who retired when he left Newcastle United at the end of May.
'I have played 18 seasons in the Premiership and having done that, I wanted a new challenge.'
Butt, who revealed he has designs on becoming a manager, was approached by South China a few months ago.
'I wanted some time out of the game to concentrate on my next step, either in or out of football. However, I feel fit and when South China approached me to join them for a week's training and a game, the prospect excited me,' he said.
'I have been to Hong Kong on many occasions with England and Manchester United and the reception we received from the fans was unbelievable. It was very humbling. I'm now looking forward to this new experience.'
Butt was part of the England team who arrived in Hong Kong for the Euro 1996 build-up. But he wasn't part of the infamous 'dentist's chair' incident where players, including Paul Gascoigne, took part in a drinking ritual at a nightclub.
The European Cup winner has been training with South China for the past few days and will decide after tonight's game if he wants to bring his young family to Hong Kong.
Treated like royalty - he is staying at the Grand Hyatt - Butt told an English newspaper last week that reports of a weekly wage of GBP200,000 (HK$2.42 million) were grossly exaggerated. But he hasn't come cheap and will cost South China a pretty penny. Lo said he was worth it.
'It's not a gamble,' Lo said. 'We will be playing three games at home [in the AFC Cup] next year and if we draw a capacity crowd of 40,000 at the Hong Kong Stadium we can expect to break even.
'An average ticket for a game is HK$60 and, if we have a full house, we should get ticket revenue of around HK$2 million per game, which is enough to cover his costs. I don't know why other clubs don't follow suit and get players who can hopefully take them into the big leagues,' Lo said.
That is his dream, for South China to play with the big boys in Asia, where the real money - from television broadcast rights - can be made.
When told of this, Butt refused to be cast in a role of a crusader taking South China into the big leagues.
'No, I don't think I'm a crusader. South China has done well, having won many titles and they have some good players. All I want to do is to play good football.
'At the end of the day all this is nice, the publicity and the PR. But ultimately it is all about what you do on the football pitch,' said Butt, who won six Premier League titles with Manchester United.
'I've experienced a lot of things in my football career, I've had a lot of highs. Hopefully, this will be another one,' he said.