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Beckham backs United star Butt.

Byline: By Simon Rushworth

David Beckham last night backed Nicky Butt to reclaim his place at the heart of England's midfield after insisting the Newcastle player's move to St James's Park can kickstart a stalling international career.

The Real Madrid star, who arrived in the North-East yesterday determined to restore his own reputation following fierce criticism in the wake of Euro 2004, believes his former Old Trafford colleague can look forward to a bright future for club and country.

And Beckham tipped Butt to add significantly to the 35 caps he earned during his time as one of the key figures at the forefront of Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United revolution.

"I think Nicky's move to Newcastle can give his international career a real boost," admitted a player who, arguably, suffered on the world stage in the aftermath of his own high-profile transfer last summer. "It's a great move for Nicky and a great move for Newcastle.

"He's one of the best midfielders in English football and I heard he's already picked up his first man-of-the-match award for Newcastle at Middlesbrough. That just proves what a great player he is.

"Hopefully he'll get more games for England now. We'll wait and see."

Sven-GUran Eriksson will select his starting 11 for tomorrow night's clash against Ukraine at St James's Park following today's first full training session and there is every chance Butt will be selected ahead of his under-fire Magpies' colleague Kieron Dyer.

Sir Bobby Robson's pounds 2.2m summer signing starred for England at the 2002 World Cup as the defensive linchpin of the controversial diamond system and, despite the retirement from international football of former team-mate Paul Scholes, that formation could yet be reprised.

Dyer, whose days on Tyneside are apparently numbered following reports of a disagreement with Robson last week, had been expected to replace Scholes as the left-sided player in a flat midfield four.

However Eriksson, well aware that the 25-year-old has been the subject of severe criticism from Newcastle fans questioning his commitment to the black-and-white cause, may well take the decision to shield his favourite utility player from any potential St James's backlash.

Beckham, meanwhile, is guaranteed both a starting place and the captain's armband as England prepare for next month's vital World Cup qualifiers with a friendly against one of Europe's rising forces.

Those who called for the skipper to be dropped from Eriksson's starting 11 will be sorely disappointed and the Galactico is determined to recapture his best form in time to spearhead a vitally important World Cup 2006 campaign. "I respect the gift that I've been given and I know that I've been granted a very special talent," explained a player who refuses to accept his best days in an England shirt are over.

"I know in my heart that talent cannot just disappear. After four games in Portugal my gift can't have been taken away.

"I had never doubted myself until this summer but I can't deny that a few doubts did enter my head after Euro 2004. I took a look at myself and I am certain that what happened on the pitch was nothing to do with the way that I apparently live my life."

Beckham, who does not believe various commercial commitments affected his European Championship build-up, did, however, elaborate on the theory that an ill-advised fitness routine had upset his natural balance.

"I'd lifted too many weights at the end of the league season and I didn't realise what I was doing," he added.

"It's not an excuse but I put on extra muscle weight which didn't help my football. That, and the media attention which surrounded me after Christmas on and off the pitch, didn't help. For the first time in my career I took a lot of baggage onto the field. But I still believe I deserve to be England captain and I'm still confident I'm the right man for the job."
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 17, 2004
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