NEW: PETER BUTLER INTERVIEW!
Peter Butler is the manager of the Botswana national team. The 47-year-old played for West Ham and West Bromwich Albion, among others, before coaching in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Burma (Myanmar), and Thailand. Here, he talks about Twitter rants, his twelve years in Asian football, and why some British coaches abroad need to up their game…
I’ve been asked loads of times to write an autobiography. I reply: “I’d need a good lawyer – and a good bodyguard.” I’ve seen some things, that’s for sure. When I was coaching Persiba Balikpapan in the Indonesian Super League, we had an away game in the interior, about five hours’ drive away. At half time, we’re one-nil down, I’m doing the team talk, and a supporter falls through the ceiling.
We thought he’d died. The changing rooms were under an old, wooden stand, and he’d fallen through and landed on a tile floor. He was rushed out, given medical help, and I had to re-start my team talk. As you can imagine, I’d lost my train of thought. We went on to lose the game.
Afterwards, I was speaking to the Indonesian media. I told them the ref was bent, and the match was fixed. I was speaking in Indonesian, when the general manager of the other teams looks at me and says – in perfect English – “Peter, why are you getting irate? You could not win the game. Your president and our president did a deal – you win your home game, we win our home game.” I felt about two inches big. With that, and the changing room incident, I thought: “Welcome to Asia.”
In 2009 and 2010, I worked for Yangon United in Burma. It was before democracy (Burma held their first elections in fifty years at the end of 2010) and my boss was a tycoon called Tay Za. He was on the United Nations sanctions list, accused of arms dealing. I lost count of the times the British tabloids approached me, asking me to do a story about him. But to be honest, I thought he was nice.
Tay Za gave me a blank piece of paper, and said: “Off you go, this is what I want for the club.” And I put it in place – 3G pitch, irrigated grass pitch, stands, state of the art gym, and so on. He threw about three million US dollars at it, and I see it as a great achievement. When people criticise me for working for this guy, I say: “Well I did something right, and he did something right – giving something back to Burmese people.” As I said, I thought he was a very nice chap – until he sacked me!
A lot of people say to me: “You’ve been nomadic”. And I reply: “That’s always been my intention”. If you know Asian football, you know there’s zero loyalty. Contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. If you’re at one club for 12 months, you’ve done a great job. If you’re there two years, you’ve won the pools. When people say: “Peter Butler doesn’t stay anywhere long”, I laugh.
Things aren’t straightforward in Asia. In 2012, I was managing Terengganu in the Malaysian Super League. The night before a game, 3 o’clock in the morning, two players bring call girls back to the hotel. An hour before kick-off, they drop out, saying they aren’t feeling well. I couldn’t believe it.
The story was all over social media – yet the club sacked me for speaking about it to the press. I was put before two kangaroo courts (disciplinary committees), but I thought: “Bollocks to you, I’ll take you on.” And I did. I speak Malay, so I stood my ground, said my piece, and appealed. Six weeks later, the Malaysian FA overruled the club, so I was vindicated. I came to an agreement with Terengganu, and they honoured my contract.
Ninety-nine percent of Malaysian people were behind me. They know I’m an honest guy. I was going through customs one day, and an immigration guy turned to me and said: “Pete, don’t believe everything you read, we’re all rooting for you.” There are some great people in Malaysia. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for Tan Sri Anuar Musa, the president of the Kelantan FA, who has done a great job in raising the bar for Malaysian football. And I’ve also got good relationships with the FA and the fans. On the whole, I loved my time there.
I’m a good coach, but I’m not a good politician. I can be outspoken on Twitter (Butler has tweeted about corruption and match-fixing in Asian football) but that’s because I want things done the right way. When I started working in Malaysian TV (after leaving Terengganu) I was asked to delete my account. After two weeks, I went back on. I regret deleting it. I listened to a complete fool.
I’m different to 99 percent of British coaches who go to Asia. Most of them haven’t played football (professionally) so they go over and re-identify themselves. That can be good, but it can be damaging. They haven’t got up-to-date qualifications, they haven’t got CPD (continuing professional development), their licences aren’t active, and then we all get tarred with the same brush.
If you want to be a top coach, I think you have to have played (professionally). I know some very good coaches who haven’t played, but to really understand the game, you have to have done it. I did an article recently making this point, and a lot of coaches disagreed. But there you go. I stand by it.
I’ve got my UEFA A qualification, my UEFA Pro Licence, and I’m all for accreditation. But it’s like driving – you don’t really learn to drive until you’ve passed your test, and you don’t really learn to coach until you’re out there, on the training pitch. There’s a saying – you need to coach round corners, not in straight lines. There aren’t enough creative coaches. I want to see more innovation.
It’s great to see British coaches abroad, and I really fly the flag for them. But a lot are happy to go to Asia, live their life, and earn their money, without putting challenging sessions on for players. And I think I’m the only English coach who’s gone to Malaysia and learned the language. A lot pretend to, but they don’t. I know this all sounds critical, but it’s my honest opinion.
Before Christmas, an agent put me forward for the Botswana FA technical director job, which I declined. And then I never heard from the agent for months, which is typical of how they work. They come along, say they’ve got something for you, and then you don’t hear from them for months and months and months. All of a sudden, you get a job, and they want to jump on the bandwagon.
Three or four months after I declined the job, the Botswana FA approached me again, asking if I wanted to interview for the head coach position. I went over, got the job, and to be honest, I never looked back. Coming to places like this reignites you. I’m as excited as I’ve ever been, and I really want to make a difference, to improve players. Ray Harford – who was one of the best coaches I worked with – said “Pete, be a coach who coaches, not one who fills time.” That has lived with me.
A lot of national team coaches only care about the senior team, but in a developing country, you can’t do that. You have to share your knowledge right down the line. I’ve just done a session with the under-20s, and I’m doing them again this afternoon. I’ve worked with the under-15s, and I’m doing the under-17 selection this weekend. There’s some wonderful potential here.
My first game was against South Sudan in March – I gave three teenagers their debut, and we won 3-0. Anywhere you go, I believe it’s right to give youth a chance. South Sudan is a new country, they don’t have a proper FIFA ranking, but they weren’t bad. Most of them were Sudan players anyway.
Can we qualify for the African Cup of Nations in 2015? Why not? A lot of countries have a head start on is, but I’m positive. Let’s have a go, get on the training ground, select some young, hungry players, and see what happens. If we fail, we fail, but it won’t be down to a lack of trying.
I’m living in a hotel in Botswana, out of a suitcase, but I’m used to that. My family moved back to the UK in 2009 – my wife had had it up to here with moving around! – and one day I might move back, if the right opportunity comes along. In fact, I was offered a job in England before I took the Terengannu post, but I turned it down. I’m enjoying working here. I’m learning a bit of Setswana (the local language), I’m throwing myself into it, and I think there’s a bright future.