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Nov 23, 2010

Butt set to seal move to South China FC

Former Manchester United midfielder Nicky Butt is set to sign for Hong Kong-based side South China FC and admitted his surprise move to Asia will be a step into the unknown.

Butt, who came through the United youth ranks before going on to play for Newcastle and Birmingham, retired from football after captaining the Magpies to last season's promotion to the Premier League.

But the 35-year-old has been tempted to lace up his boots again, having been convinced by charismatic South China chairman Steven Lo to take up a new challenge.

Butt appears certain to sign an initial three-month contract and while he admitted that the Chinese League provided a gap in his football knowledge, he is relishing the possibility of a playing return.

"I am not going to lie, I have not been studying the Chinese League or Hong Kong for many years," Butt said. "It is all new to me.

"But I have been there two or three times and it is unbelievable how passionate the fans in Asia are. The football is not at the level of the Premier League but their fans still take it very seriously.''

Having watched old friend David Beckham take his career to the United States, Butt knew there was interest in him, having decided halfway through last season he no longer had the appetite for Premier League combat.

He will certainly be hoping to have more success than Paul Gascoigne, whose own ill-fated stint with Gansu Tianma ended with him travelling to the US for treatment to combat depression.

Hong Kong promises to be a more pleasurable experience by far, even if Butt refutes the suggestion that he is earning anywhere close to the £200,000 weekly salary that has been reported in some quarters.

"If it was that amount of money I would be signing for four years, not three months,'' he joked. "At this present time, it just ticks all the boxes.

"I want to go down the coaching route in future but I can't start that until May. Hong Kong was a long way from my thoughts but I spoke to a few people about it and the length of the contract fits in perfectly.

"I have been there with United a couple of times and also England but it is going to be different to flying in, playing a game and flying out, which is what you tend to do. But when I have been there before I experienced a great warmth from the people and the place itself is amazing.''

That Butt is still capable of playing raises an obvious question about whether he retired too early. He insists he did not.

"I was not enjoying going training every day and I was fed up not playing all the games,'' he said. "When you get to a certain age you have to accept it. But your pride is still there.

"Even though I am 35 I was still thinking I should be playing all the time and I was good enough to get in the Newcastle team every week.

"But I was realistic enough to know that is not going to happen. Even the lads at Manchester United don't play every week. Your legs catch up with you. I don't regret retiring at all.''

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