Alexander Buttner had a decent game against West Ham United in the FA Cup. Truly, he did.
But let’s think for one moment about what ‘decent’ entails. Google deems it synonymous with ‘respectable,’ ‘seemly,’ ‘modest’ – all pleasant, all positive.
Except that is not good enough. Not for a Manchester United team with Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm and not for a man who aims to send Patrice Evra packing for an Old Trafford retirement.
True, we haven’t seen an awful lot of the Dutchman so far. He has not set foot in the Premier League since his debut against Wigan Athletic, scoring a goal which – even if more accident than design – earned him worthy praise.
In the same fixture, however, he launched into the kind of rash tackle which makes the Ultimate Fighting Championship look comparatively harmless – picking up a yellow card for his troubles.
It is of no coincidence then that, cup and Champions League fodder games aside, Fergie has not trusted him enough to rest, let alone oust, an aging Evra from the first-team.
While the man in the pub is often left bewildered over a manager’s team selections, the answer may lie with what goes on behind closed doors and on the training pitch.
Indeed, the hectic festive fixture list was ample evidence of a left-back out-of-favour. Against Newcastle United, Swansea and West Bromwich Albion, Buttner remained an unused substitute.
And against Wigan again at the start of the year? Not even a place on the bench. Four games in ten days and no sign of a player who United fans are starting to feverishly clamour for.
So, the question must be asked – if not to challenge Evra, what was his signing for? Was it merely to provide a stop-gap for Fabio’s loan spell at Queens Park Rangers?
If we return full-circle to the ex-Vitesse man’s performance against the Hammers – ‘decent’ as it was – it must be compared to Evra’s season for the Red Devils so far.
A few penetrative runs against an inexperienced West Ham backline. A couple of strong challenges, one of which was caused by his careless dispossession in the box – leaving Ferguson fuming.
Is this the hallmarks of a player who can rightfully assert his place in one of the greatest teams in the land? Praising him too much for too little takes away how good a player like Evra actually is.
Even if not remotely threatened by Buttner, the French first-teamer has stepped up his game this year. His four goals aside he has often been sturdy among United’s porous defence.
However, the 23-year-old is not a lost cause. Fullback is a lung-busting position, requiring vast swathes of positional intelligence which, in some part, comes with experience.
A surprise signing in the summer if not a surprise impact, Buttner may come good yet. It is just more in hope than in expectation.
Image courtesy of Vladislav Fadeev via YouTube, with thanks