Butcher tells Rooney to keep flag, not temper, flying

Fleet Street’s Old Cock Tavern is already bedecked in the flags of all the competing nations at the 2010 World Cup. But what has impressed former England captain Terry Butcher has been the number of St George crosses being flown around the country, as he told IAN COLE at the latest SJA working lunch

Terry Butcher, the last England captain to lead the national side as far as a World Cup semi-final and who famously shed blood in the cause, yesterday added his warning to his 2010 successors that Wayne Rooney needs to control his fiery temper.

“If I was an American defender I’d belt him one,” Butcher said at a special World Cup working lunch arranged by the SJA, sponsored by UK Sport and Sky Bet.

“If I played against him I’d wind him up,” said Butcher, the former Ipswich and Rangers centre-half and old-style football hard man. “If you are successful you can stop not only him but the whole team.

“He is similar to Paul Gascoigne, who starred for us in 1990,” Butcher said, remembering the Italia ’90 tournament in which he took over the captaincy from the injured Bryan Robson and helped England reach the semi-final, when only a penalty shoot-out against Germany stood between the side and the World Cup final.

“They both like to play on the edge,” he said, comparing the stars of the teams. “With Gazza you knew that if he got booked he would respond positively. There is a fine line between brilliance and over-the-wedge recklessness.

“The Americans have already said they are going to wind him up and if I was playing against him I would do the same as well.

“I would stand on his toes, poke him, pinch him and do anything to wind him up – even belt him one because his temperament concerns me.

“If you are successful at winding up Rooney you have a really good chance of not only stopping him, but England as well.
“Something can always happen with him, something could snap.”

The latest SJA working lunch, attended by nearly 20 leading sports journalists, was hosted by the Association’s new vice-chairman, David Walker, who as sports editor of the Sunday Mirror has edited Butcher’s weekly column for the past five years. He paid tribute to his columnist’s punditry and the fact that Butcher ” who managed Inverness Caledonian Thistle to promotion to the Scottish Premier League last season ” always writes his own articles.

Butcher, as a player or pundit, has attended every World Cup finals since Spain in 1982, and because he has been convalescing since a knee operation, he has been taken aback by the passion and excitement being shown in England ahead of the tournament.

The former Scotland national side’s assistant manager under his old Ipswich team mate, George Burley, said, “It’s weird seeing all the England flags flying. You only fly one of those in Scotland if you have a deathwish.

“They already all have the T-shirts with ABE on them: Anyone But England. When I get back I’ll be decking my car out. But I’ll have to avoid traffic jams, I’d rather be a moving target.”

Butcher won 77 England caps and played in three World Cup finals ” 1982, 1986 and 1990 ” and has worked with BBC radio at the tournaments since. He dismissed as insignificant the scratchy performance put in by England in Monday’s training game against a local club side, because he says the eventual champions will be the team which gels together better as a unit as matches progress in South Africa.

“Are England good enough to win it? No. But I think we can go a long way. Teams build up a head of steam. Were Italy good enough to win it in 1982? Not at the start, but they scrambled out of their group and found form against Argentina and Brazil. It is about how the squad gel, how the team develops. If England progress they will have a surge in confidence.”

Butcher suggests that the loss of captain Rio Ferdinand through injury in training last week may give this England squad its “cause”.

“These things bring a squad together. They are a test of mettle but teams that win World Cups, that win tournaments, have a cause. A team that feels it is on a mission will go further than one without. It is a cliché, but there is something in the ‘win it for Rio’ idea.”

“In Mexico in 1986 we lost Bryan Robson in the second match of the tournament ” having been beaten in the first. But it gave us a cause, a determination to do it for Bryan, if you like.

“Rio is a good leader, a good player and a strong character. It was a freak injury. You have to move on. Better that it should have happened before the tournament began.

“It is a blow but there will be no sense of despair under Fabio Capello. Nothing fazes him. That’s good for the players. Capello will have made plans already, as an international manager you have a lot of time to make plans. It’s cold and clinical, but he will move on quickly.”

Butcher endorsed the selection of Ledley King as Ferdinand’s replacement, as the man in form after a good season with Tottenham. “He has pace, he’s comfortable on the ball, he’s there on merit.”

For possible winners, Butcher looks to Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Holland, who he saw in the qualifying matches with Scotland, as potential winners.

But, with memories of the fateful 1986 “Hand of God” World Cup quarter final still vivid, Butcher added, with obvious feeling, “I wouldn’t want to see Maradonna getting his hands on the World Cup again.”

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