Butler feels the heat in Malaysia

There are not many club directors who sack their manager with their team on top of the table by two points.

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Feeling the heat: Andre Villas-Boas is under scrutiny from owner Roman Abramovich who has become a regular fixture at Chelsea trainings [GETTY]

Peter Butler was once a feisty midfielder in England who joined West Ham on the same day as Harry Redknapp.

However his second coaching stint in the Malaysian league with high-flying Kelantan again ended prematurely this week after Butler fell victim to apparent boardroom interference.

Just like Andre Villas-Boas in the English Premier League, Butler had to deal with unwanted meddling from the top. But while Chelsea have been in and out of the top four, Kelantan are first on the table after eight games.

Dealing with constant scrutiny over his future, Villas-Boas has seen owner Roman Abramovich become an increasingly frequent visitor to Chelsea trainings.

Villas-Boas has also had to work in a hopelessly out-of-sorts Fernando Torres after Abramovich splashed out $79 million to buy the Spanish striker on a whim a year ago.

The young Portuguese coach has also had to deal with player power within the Stamford Bridge dressing room, with senior squad members, including Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, proving more than a handful.


Butler’s challenge was appeasing Kelantan FA president Tan Sri Annuar Musa, who took umbrage with the Englishman’s four foreign signings.

Without consulting the manager, Annuar then made the decision to deregister Lebanon striker Mohammed Ghadar while bringing in Nigerian Onyekachi Nwoha.

Two other imports, Lebanon’s Zakaria Charara and Emmanuel Okine, a Ghanaian, were sent on loan to Kuala Lumpur.

According to reports, the hiring and firing of foreigners was taken away from Butler ahead of their most recent Super League match against Selangor. Kelantan would suffer their first league defeat, losing 2-1 in Kuala Lumpur, with Nwoha making his debut.

I’ve used a (foreign) player in the second half against Selangor who I have seen only 30 minutes in training … Where I come from, that is not professional.

Peter Butler

“I’ve used a (foreign) player in the second half against Selangor who I have seen only 30 minutes in training,” he said after the game.

“Where I come from, that is not professional. It would have been nice to have been informed about the foreign players.

“Where I come from, coaches are regarded highly. I’ve played more than 550 matches in England and coaches there are well respected.”

The comments immediately landed Butler in hot water, with the club suspending him for three weeks.

Then on Tuesday, the 45-year-old parted ways with the Kota Bharu-based club, receiving an undisclosed severance payment and bringing an end to his two-year contract after just four months.

Croatian Bojan Hodak, who most recently was an assistant manager at Shandong Luneng in the Chinese Super League, takes over as manager, having previously coached UPB-My Team from 2006 to 2009.

It was 2009 when Butler last made a premature exit from Kelantan ahead of the team’s Malaysia Cup campaign after apparently losing patience with club management and joining Yangon United FC as technical director.

Earlier that season, he had taken a young Red Warriors’ side to the final of the FA Cup, losing to Selangor on a penalty shoot-out.

Familiar territory

As a player, Butler featured in West Ham’s first ever Premier League season in 1993-94 under Billy Bonds and Redknapp after they had earned promotion, facing up to the likes of John Barnes, Gianfranco Zola, David Beckham and a teenage Paul Scholes.

The highlights were a 4-1 win at Tottenham and earning a 1-1 draw at Liverpool after Tony Cottee had been sent off.
His first management experience came as a caretaker boss at his hometown club, Halifax Town.

But Southeast Asia is where Butler has cut his teeth with spells in Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand as well as Malaysia with Kelantan and Sabah.

Some of his other coaching stints have been short-lived: he left Singapore Armed Forces FC after eight games of his first season and he lasted less than a year at Thai Premier League team, BEC Tero Sasana.

Those who know Butler well put it down to his fiery and uncompromising nature.

But to dismiss it as a clash of cultures is an over-simplification.

Unlike most other foreigners in Southeast Asia, Butler speaks fluent Bahasa Indonesia, which is similar to the language of Malaysia. He regularly gives TV interviews on Malay-language channels.

He has also had considerable success in nurturing youngsters within his squads all over the region.

However, his patience in dealing with club bosses seems to wear thin wherever he goes.

One of the last straws was finding out about a recent SMS sent to all the Kelantan players from the management, asking: “What do you think about coach Butler? A: Good, B: Fair, C: Poor”.

While we know that Chelsea’s players remain in telephone contact with their beloved former boss Jose Mourinho, at least Villas-Boas has not had to deal with Abramovich sending similar text messages to the superstars on his payroll.

For the moment, Peter Butler is laying low, staying with a friend in a posh Kuala Lumpur suburb and weighing up his next managerial step. His family, including two rugby-loving sons, is back in the UK.

There are not many club directors who get rid of their head coach with their team on top of the table by two points and safely through to the next round of the FA Cup.

But in the Southeast Asian leagues, almost anything goes.

At least Andre Villas-Boas knows that if Chelsea were leading the Premier League, his job would probably be safe and that Abramovich would make fewer of those visits to the club’s Surrey training centre.

Jason Dasey is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever the world’s first international soccer podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey

Source: Al Jazeera

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