Leeds United: Butland’s got it all to be a big success

Jack Butland
Jack Butland
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There are goalkeepers who spend their careers in reserve and others like Jack Butland who fight inaction at every turn. It was the thought of playing rarely – if at all – that convinced Butland to reject a move to a club who held the European Cup last year.

There are goalkeepers who spend their careers in reserve and others like Jack Butland who fight inaction at every turn. It was the thought of playing rarely – if at all – that convinced Butland to reject a move to a club who held the European Cup last year.

Chelsea made him an offer they thought he’d accept but the teenager refused to be blinded by the bright lights of Stamford Bridge. On the last day of the 2013 January transfer window, he joined Stoke City; the right move in theory if not in practice.

It was widely believed that Asmir Begovic, Stoke’s first choice, would depart soon after and sign for Manchester United but the Bosnian stayed put and Butland was soon trapped behind him and Thomas Sorensen. In the spirit of a keeper unwilling to sit idly, he joined Barnsley temporarily for the first half of this season and will finish it on loan with Leeds United. He has come to Elland Road to play.

Maik Taylor, the former United keeper, had a close-up view of Butland’s emergence while Taylor was a veteran at Birmingham City and Butland was branching out of their academy.

“Back then he was one for the future,” Taylor recalls, “but he’s made great strides in a very short period of time.

“We thought of him as the outstanding keeper in Birmingham’s academy and you could see straight away that he was so keen to get on. He’s a normal lad, level-headed, and he was never motivated by anything other than wanting to play the game.

“He’s not a sit-around-and-pick-up-your-money type. That’s obvious. If he was then he’d probably have gone to Chelsea. He’s just extremely ambitious in terms of wanting to make the best of his ability.”

Butland receives around £17,000 a week at Stoke, a portion of which Leeds are now paying after signing him last Friday. At Chelsea he stood to earn a greater wage but risked becoming another Ross Turnbull – a keeper who left Middlesbrough to spend four years at Stamford Bridge but played only 19 times.

“It was a refreshing decision,” Taylor says. “I’d assume that Chelsea would have paid Jack more money than Stoke but he obviously realised that his chances of playing wouldn’t be high. Other lads his age might have made a different decision. They’d have looked at the money and used that as their motivating factor.

“In the end he’s been a bit unlucky because it sounded like Begovic was going to move on from Stoke but he’s stuck around and Jack hasn’t had much of a chance. This could have been a wasted season for him but he’s gone out twice, played more games and he’ll be better for it. He’s a really good example to young professionals.”

Butland’s Leeds debut in a 0-0 draw at Middlesbrough on Saturday was as good is it could have been, an exemplary start in difficult circumstances. Much was made of his saves from Jacob Butterfield and Albert Adomah – the second a last-ditch block towards the end of the game – but the 20-year-old caught the eye with safe handling under high crosses and his command of United’s box.

Leeds lost their long-standing first choice, Paddy Kenny, to an ankle injury and are not yet certain about when he will be fit again. Butland’s 93-day loan runs to the end of the regular Championship season, giving manager Brian McDermott some assurance in a position which has always been one setback to Kenny away from a crisis.

Taylor, who was an understudy at Leeds during the 2011-12 season and is now a goalkeeping coach with the Northern Ireland squad, watched Butland’s performance at The Riverside and saw the traits that made him a prized asset from the day when Birmingham put him on show. Butland famously made his debut for England before his first competitive debut for City.

“He did exceptionally well at Middlesbrough,” Taylor says. “He only joined Leeds on Friday so he’s had to wrap himself up in the squad very quickly and he’s had to settle in fast. But really, he looked like he’d been playing in that team for weeks. It all came naturally to him and his temperament for someone so young is impressive. He’ll have the supporters onside already.

“He’s got himself a fantastic club at Leeds and he doesn’t have the luxury of going there and playing without pressure. That’ll be good for him. He’s a player who obviously wants his career to go on and on.”

Butland will keep his mobile phone close over the next 24 hours with England coach Roy Hodgson about to name his squad for next week’s friendly against Denmark.

The pool chosen by Hodgson will be taken as an indication of how his squad might look for this summer’s World Cup, and McDermott and Butland spoke of the keeper’s chances of selection after his display at Boro.

“He’s 20 years of age and he’s played 86 games already so he’s very mature and very hungry,” McDermott said. “He wants to be on that plane to Brazil with England. You can see that.”

There are other English keepers who will cross their fingers that Butland’s name does not appear. Goalkeeping is notoriously competitive though strangely supportive – a ‘union’ in most cases, despite the fight for a single position.

Dave Watson, the England goalkeeping coach, held the same job at Birmingham while Taylor and Butland were team-mates there. Watson has consistently championed Butland’s national prospects but Taylor never felt threatened or resistant to the youngster’s obvious talent at St Andrews.

“He was a pleasure to work with,” Taylor says. “You know what they say about the goalies’ union. You help each other, you support each other and I think when you’ve got someone as young as Jack alongside you, you try to push him on like others pushed you.

“Don’t get me wrong, every keeper wants to play, but I’ve never held grudges against keepers who’ve been ahead of me. If you’re not playing and you think you should be, your argument’s with the manager, no-one else. You don’t want to create a situation which is detrimental to one of your team-mates.

“From a young age, Jack’s had a lot thrown at him and he’s handled everything like his debut on Saturday. There’s no arrogance with him – just plenty of ability and the knowledge that he’s got it.”

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