Date: 14th February 2006 at 2:28pm
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Steve Bruce has promised to ‘deal with’ Nicky Butt after his surprising walk-out upon learning he was to be left out of the match 16 for last night’s 3-0 defeat at West Ham.

After learning of the manager’s decision, Butt decided to return home rather than stay in London to watch the match and support his team-mates.

Bruce’s son Alex – predominantly a centre-back – was preferred to Butt in the centre of the park, but the ex-Manchester Utd stormy exit from the team’s London hotel has led to criticism from a large section of the fans.

Manager Bruce has promised to deal with the player accordingly: ‘I picked the team I thought was suited to the game and whoever you are, you have to accept that,’ he said. ‘Nicky Butt didn’t play last week against Reading because of an injury and it was decided that he wasn’t going to be involved in the 16.

‘He travelled with the team and when he was told at the hotel that he was not going to be in the 16, he decided off his own back to leave and go home. He wasn’t given permission to go. Of course, it’s not normal behaviour but you can understand his frustration and disappointment to a degree.

‘He decided he would be better watching the game at home rather than be with us, which is not ideal, but that’s what happened. I’ll deal with the matter internally over the next 48 hours.

‘We decided the lads who played (against Reading in midweek), especially one of them, deserved to stay in the team. No player is happy about being left out. He didn’t ask for permission, he decided on his own bat to leave and go home.

‘We will have a conversation I’m sure and I’ll deal with it.’

Butt’s non-committal display in last Saturday’s match against Arsenal, plus a series of less than convincing previous performances in a Birmingham shirt, may well have been a large factor in Bruce’s reckoning:

‘I want to have a team which is totally committed to the cause,’ Bruce senior told reporters.

‘We are in a relegation fight. We need to roll up our sleeves and be prepared to take on the fight. I did not see enough of that against West Ham and I will do something about it.’

Butt’s commitment to the Birmingham cause has been questionable, and this latest episode will provide his doubters with further ammunition to demand his exclusion from the squad.

It can of course be argued that this display of impetulance shows a player who is clearly disinterested in the fortunes of the club, content merely to pick up his reported £40,000 a week wage rather than support his team-mates.

However, the opposite side to this incident is that Butt is instead displaying his disappointment at being left out of a squad in which he feels he could, and wants to, make a significant contribution, whilst atoning for his previous poor performances and help to drag the side kicking and screaming away from the relegation zone.

Certainly, Butt’s anger was justified from his point of view – why pay him £40,000 a week to then pick a central defender that had played just three minutes of Premiership football prior to last night’s game, and even prefer Mat Birley on the bench? – but this still does not make up for his somewhat arrogant decision to up sticks and leave the hotel.

Whilst this decision to play Bruce in the centre of the park initially appeared a strange one, he emerged as one of the few players to take any credit from the 3-0 defeat. His tackling, commitment and passing ability – all of which have been lacking from Butt’s recent game – certainly justified his father’s decision to pick him.

Bruce’s performance may have earned him a yellow card – his knee-high lunge on Danny Gabbidon sparking a mini-melee. As his fifth of the season, that card will earn him an automatic one-match suspension (previous cards having been picked up whilst on loan at Tranmere Rovers). However, this is exactly the kind of ‘get stuck in’ atttide which Blues fans have been calling for ‘Pelé’s player of the 2002 World Cup’ to display.

This episode has raised many questions about Butt’s future. Time will tell what sort of punishment Butt will receive, and whether he will be allowed back into the squad in the future. But crucially, Butt’s chances of a permanent move from Newcastle (provided we stay up) may have been damaged beyond repair – and with the Tyneside club having made it clear they do not want him back, and his series of unimpressive performances this season, the Mancunian’s future could well be bleak.

However, Butt has since apologised, saying: ‘I made a decision I regret, a decision made on the spur of the moment and while I was feeling totally dejected.

‘It was the wrong decision and unacceptable. I would like to apologise unreservedly to the manager, coaching staff, team mates and fans for my actions. There is no doubt we are in a battle and it is important that we all stick together.’

Given this apology, along with a squad decimated by injuries, and the speed at which Julian Gray regained his place in the side after suffering a case of anti-tackle syndrome, Butt may still have a future at St. Andrews. Although a large number of fans are hoping for Butt to stay as far from the squad as possible – and fan opinion is a powerful thing – do not be surprised if we have not seen the back of Butt.