Sunday 5 December 2010

Nicky Butt Gives Hong Kong Two Lessons

Hong Kong’s oldest club South China Athletics Association is in the midst of enticing Nicky Butt out of football retirement. The former Manchester United, Newcastle United and England player hung up his boots last season, after helping the Magpies secure promotion from England’s Championship to the Premiership.

However, Hong Kong has clearly embraced Nicky Butt and relevant parties are currently negotiating a short-term contract so that Butt can primarily help South China in its quest to win the AFC Cup.

As a tantalizing prelude, on Tuesday 30 November 2010 Nicky Butt made his South China debut in front of 8,253 fans, the largest crowd this season in Hong Kong. The 1st Division league match between South China and TSW Pegasus was played at the Hong Kong Stadium, and the match finished 2—1. Butt scored South China's equalizer from a free kick in the 65th minute, missed a penalty in the 70th minute, and helped set up the winning goal in the 90th minute. [Match highlights can be viewed here]

At least two little lessons were picked up from Nicky Butt’s debut

Lesson ONE

To quote a cliché, Nicky Butt was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. He was composed, always made himself available to his team-mates, read play well, and perhaps unexpectedly spread the ball around the pitch as if he was a clone of Paul Scholes or David Beckham. The surprising thing (because this is expected of him) was that he did not appear to want to tackle and when he did attempt to tackle, his timing was way off, as could be seen for instance in the 85th minute when he made a late lunge at an opponent about to counterattack. Butt did not make contact with the ball or the player and fortunately, as he stretched despairingly at his opponent, did not injure himself.

He also scored from a direct free kick. Here is a clip of Nicky Butt’s debut goal in Hong Kong.

Nicky Butt Debut Goal South China Hong Kong

Take home message: Six months after hanging up his boots, this performance says a lot about Butt’s quality … and also says something about the quality of Hong Kong football.

Lesson TWO

In the 70th minute, a penalty kick was awarded to South China. [Question: Was it a penalty? The incident occurs from 1:26 here]

Here is a clip immediately after the referee awarded a penalty to South China, with the score level at 1—1. The TSW Pegasus players (yellow) are incensed at the decision and attempted to crowd and exert pressure on the referee. This is why the nearside AR has run over to support his colleague.

Nicky Butt Penalty Kick on Debut South China Hong Kong

Nicky Butt shoots from the penalty spot and hits the crossbar. The ball rebounds towards Butt, who cannot resist the urge to have another crack at goal. Unfortunately for Butt—for all his experience as a professional player at the highest levels of football—his second attempt at goal automatically became void as soon as he touched the ball. The nearside AR instantly spots this and flags for an indirect free kick to the defending team.

Take home message: The nearside AR did an excellent job in assisting the match referee prior to and during the penalty kick.

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