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Aug 7, 2014

Nicky Butt expects Man Utd to contend

ESPN FC's Janusz Michallik weighs in on the teams who are likely to be involved in the 2014 English Premier League title race.

Nicky Butt expects Manchester United to be challenging for the Premier League title this season.

The sense of optimism around United is growing as the 2014-15 top-flight campaign draws ever nearer, with new manager Louis van Gaal having come in and so far seen his team emerge victorious from all five of their preseason friendlies.

The Red Devils are looking to bounce back after the debacle of 2013-14, when they struggled under David Moyes and finished seventh in the table -- a year on from being crowned champions in Sir Alex Ferguson's last season in charge.

And Butt, the former United midfielder who was part of the coaching staff last term and is again this season, is in optimistic mood ahead of the club's Premier League opener against Swansea at Old Trafford a week on Saturday.

"The new manager is in charge now, we are on an unbeaten run and now we are looking to make a good start to the season with the first five games we have got," Butt said, referring to United's opening slate of Swansea, Sunderland, Burnley, QPR and Leicester.

"Everyone expects Manchester United to contend for the title. We finished as low as we have done last season, but when the season starts again, everyone will expect. I am a fan, and I will expect us to be challenging again."

Nicky Butt, second left, says Manchester United must again develop their academy like they did for his 'Class of '92.'

Butt, a United player from 1992 to 2004, knows the strong desire within the club to respond after disappointing periods and has no doubt there will be that kind of feeling in the dressing room at the moment.

"[That desire] is immense," Butt said. "In days gone by it has sometimes been when Man United are at their strongest -- when they have had setbacks.

"We were always told in no uncertain terms that you had to step up to the plate, otherwise you were not going to be at the club for very much longer.

"I'm sure the new man in charge will say the same thing to the players. Hopefully the players will react, and I'm sure they will."

Butt worked with United's youth set-up last term and asked about his current role under Van Gaal he said: "It is a bit of a wider remit now -- I'm looking over all age groups. But that needs to be finalised in the next few weeks."

Then asked for his impressions so far of the Dutchman, Butt said: "Positive. He is obviously a very in-control man. He has an aura about him -- when he walks in the building, you know who the boss is, and I think that is very important.

"We had that with Sir Alex for all those years and I think we have that now with Van Gaal. He walks into the building and he commands your respect.

"All the players look up to him as the leader and that is how it should be. From afar, when I've looked at him it looks like he takes no messing about and if anyone doesn't toe the line, I'm sure they will be out of the team."

Butt was speaking on Thursday at the AJ Bell Stadium, where he, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Gary and Phil Neville rolled back the years as they lined up together in a 'Class of 92 and friends' XI for a friendly against Salford City, the non-league outfit they bought between them this year.

The quintet went on to enjoy trophy-laden careers with United after all graduating from the club's academy in the early 1990s -- something Butt thinks is unlikely to be replicated.

"It is possible -- there are a lot of great young players out there," the ex-England international said.

"But we just need to give them a chance. We had a manager in charge and a club that believed in that, but it is harder now with the immediacy of it all. Everyone wants things instantly.

"Owners that come in don't necessarily know a lot about football -- they just know a lot about business, unfortunately. But that's the way football is. People don't have the foresight to wait and see.

"To be fair, managers come in now and why should they go four or five nights a week looking at academies when nine times out of 10 they are not going to be there to see the rewards?

"I think good lads, top players, will still come through. But whether you will get five or six through together is something I doubt.

"We played together since we were 12, 13. To prepare lads to come through takes a lot of patience and a good owner to say to a manager 'We are going to give you time and stand by you.'

"Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it doesn't happen now."

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