Can you believe it’s not Büttner?
People are drawn to characters. Whether they are outrageous, mysterious or commanding. If they exude a unique charisma, they catch people’s attention. Whether this popularity equates to footballing talent remains to be seen as Manchester United’s new Dutch left sided enigma finds his feet in the Premier League.
When news broke that Manchester United had signed Alexander Büttner, it trigged a universal scratch of the head. Even the wisest football mind threw in the towel over their lack of knowledge of this seemingly enthusiastic new acquisition. Once the protagonist himself started posting photos of his new training gear, at his new club, it seemed even more bizarre. To top that off; he looked like someone who shouldn’t even be playing football. It could be the haircut, it could be the thuggish grin he naturally puts on or it could be the tattoos.
In fact, his demeanour is best described by the man himself when talking about his performances in the Dutch domestic league;
“I played against the best wingers in the Eredivisie and none of them played me off the pitch. On the contrary, I owned them all.”
He’s cocky. He has to be as he was brought up in the suburban area of Doetinchem. Known to the residents as “The Camp” for its low form of living and its somewhat grimey society. Büttner talks of himself as being “a rat” when playing football with the older boys on the streets.
The attitude he carries stems from there- from those rough days when the older boys would tackle him a little harder than most kids, give him a harder pass than they’d give to one of their mates. To test him. To see what he’s made of. An examination to see if could survive amongst the older ones. A process many of us have had to undertake in our lives when growing up playing football. In this environment, cockiness is a shield and something the Dutchman has in abundance.
Aleksander Schau on Norwegian TV2 compared Büttner to a windup car after the announcement was made of Dutchman’s arrival at United. The essence of it being that he’d take off running down the wing and you’d see him just disappear, much like a windup car. Exaggerated in his offensive contribution, not too composed in his defensive work. Perhaps a way to back this claim was to note that for those of us who had never seen anything of Alexander Büttner were caught by surprise when his YouTube videos were labeled “Alexander Büttner: All goals and skills”. Not exactly what you’d expect from a leftback. It does belong to the story that after leaving Ajax for Vitesse he was moved back from an attacking winger to an attacking wingback. To the naked eye, and perhaps to those with a touch of experience with football, moving an established player to a new position usually means the coach has no idea how he wants to use the player. To Alexander Büttner, however, it was just another shantytown-challenge. And he’d overcome this one too. As he had all his life.
Upon signing with Manchester United one would say he seemed nervous. United fans were laughing at he they called “Tom Cleverley’s evil twin” for his rugged appearance. Therefore it was a bit anticlimactic to hear the man himself stutter over his words, not seeming assured and generally seemed nervous when interview by MUTV after signing. The aura about him was that he was a badass, wasn’t it? The video of his home community throwing a huge block party in honour of their prodigy son had further spiked the assessment that here arrived this tough, take-no-prisoners bully who’d hack down any defender that had the audacity of trying to pass him. This just couldn’t be right.
I was there when Alexander Büttner made his debut against Wigan. At first, I had to confess to myself that perhaps the interview had given away some of his true persona. Uncertain of himself, not understanding of how United played and generally nervous. He didn’t belong in that team. He even picked up a stupid yellow card in the first half and lost the ball in his own area, creating a huge chance for Wigan.
Then something happened.
As he came back on, it seemed like just another one of those days with the older boys having thrown “the rat” around. It was his turn to dish some back as he bombed up and down the wing, pumping in cross after cross. He was in his attacker’s face at all times, not giving away anything. This was his time. He assist to Chicharito would have crowned what seemed to a bad debut salvaged by a heroic second half performance. But this is Alexander Büttner we’re talking about. In a run that saw him beat four players, he muscled past the Wigan defence and hammered a ball through Ali Al-Habsi’s guard to seal his dream debut. The goal in itself was nowhere near pretty. But it was edgy, it was daring, it was ruthless, it was rugged.
In many ways, it showed character. A performance by someone adored just for who they are and how they have decided to leave a mark just for what they personify. It was Alexander Büttner. The rat from the streets of Doetinchem, the eccentric wingback at Vitesse, the unknown thug at Manchester United.