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Sydney a bigger ask than Maradona: coach

He had the unenviable task of marking Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup, but Terry Butcher says he's faced no bigger challenge in his playing or coaching career than leading Sydney FC into the A-League finals.

Butcher, an uncompromising defender who earned 77 caps for England, says this season has been his toughest in football, but admits lifting the A-League crown would be one of his most satisfying achievements.

"Marking Maradona was easy compared to this," said Butcher, who made a desperate lunge at the Argentinean legend before he scored a wonder-goal to beat England 2-1 in the 1986 quarter-final.

"It has been a huge challenge coming here and adapting to a new culture and adapting to everything Australian football has to offer.

"I'm used to working with a bigger squad and in a different environment, but it's been a huge learning process for me.

Butcher had managing stints under tough conditions at Coventry City, Sunderland and Motherwell, but said the A-League was a whole new ball game.

"It's especially tough because of the shortness of the league," he said.

"There's no room for error in there, you make a mistake and you lose a game, you've got to get those three points back quickly.

"We went through two spells where we lost a couple on the trot and that really hurts you in the A-League.

"Then you've got to juggle with your squad, which is a very small squad, with injuries and suspensions to maximise and get the best out of what you have."

Despite having an axe over his head for much of the season and drawing public criticism for his tactics from shareholder and actor Anthony LaPaglia, Butcher has taken many positives from the experience.

"It's been challenging but it's been exciting because I've learnt a lot about myself, having to cope with all that pressure and speculation," he said.

"That's not been easy, but I've known deep down when I was able to get all my players back we would be able to do well.

"It was always going to be a hard year for any coach coming in, with Pierre Littbarski and what he achieved and how he achieved it.

"I knew that, but I didn't know how difficult it was going to be and all the obstacles that would be in the way."

When asked if lifting the A-League trophy would rank alongside his best achievements Butcher said: "It would. But let's talk about it if and when we get there.

"People have written us off all season, but we're in the finals now and that's the important thing," he said.