When reflecting on his time as assistant manager of Scotland, Terry Butcher concedes he has regrets, with the shortness of his tenure alongside George Burley perhaps the most frustrating of them.
However, the name Kris Boyd also features high on the list of things he wishes had turned out differently.
Butcher would like to have had more chance to work with the striker, who has since become the Scottish Premier League’s record goalscorer. Of course, circumstances dictated otherwise.
Burley’s time in charge of Scotland was defined by personnel issues. Before the all-night drinking session that subsequently saw skipper Barry Ferguson and goalkeeper Allan McGregor banned, temporarily in the latter’s case, Boyd had already notified the manager that he no longer wished to be considered. The player’s dissatisfaction at his treatment by Burley was already simmering when Chris Iwelumo was preferred over him as a second-half replacement during a World Cup qualifier against Norway in 2008.
Boyd did make a brief international comeback under Craig Levein and more recently was named in the squad by Gordon Strachan for the friendly with Norway in November, although he was not used in the actual match. But his current spell of good form with Kilmarnock has been the most persuasive sign that he has changed as both a person and player.
Indeed, Butcher rates Boyd as an improved all-round striker to the one he was at Rangers, where he is often reckoned to have been at his peak. It goes without saying that the Hibs defence will need to be on their guard tomorrow afternoon when they face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, with Boyd having struck nine goals in his last 11 appearances.
“I wish I’d spent more time with the Scotland squad, full stop,” admitted Butcher, who described Burley as being “bombed out pretty quickly”. Appointed in January 2008, Burley – and Butcher – lasted only until November the following year. Returning to Boyd, Butcher continued: “He was one of many good strikers I was able to work with at Scotland. The way things happened wasn’t great, when you look at some of the matches, and the incidents that surrounded those matches,” he added. “But I think he is a different player now. He is running out to channels and working hard. Moving down to England, Turkey and the States has made him more appreciative of what he has to do and what his role is.”
Reports of Boyd willingly coaching youngsters at Kilmarnock – “something I never dreamed he would do,” said Butcher – have impressed the Hibs manager. “He has got a new outlook on life and being a striker, and it has certainly helped his game enormously,” Butcher added. “His movement is good, as is his strength and touch, if the ball comes to him in the box he will work the angle to score. I think his all-round game has improved. It has got better, without a shadow of a doubt.
“He is a player with great strengths – he has great technique and he knows where the goal is. At Rangers in particular, he played alongside really good players who could provide him with chances. At Kilmarnock there are more young players, but they are moulding themselves into a very strong attacking force.”
At the heart of such a transformation has been Alexei Eremenko, the Finnish playmaker who has returned to Kilmarnock and linked up with Boyd to such good effect in recent weeks. Butcher is a fan of the Finn, that much is clear. “He is extraordinary,” he said. “He sees things and passes the ball with either foot; his peripheral vision is excellent. He is a quality player, he really is. Hopefully he will be feeling the effects of 90 minutes last week and won’t be so mobile, but I doubt it very much.”
With Liam Craig available again after suspension, Butcher is left with a decision to make in terms of his midfield line-up. Craig is skipper and will surely reclaim his place. However, Tom Taiwo’s return to the side has been welcomed by supporters – and he scored a rare goal in Hibs’ 2-1 win over Ross County last weekend. Butcher noted his “fantastic attitude, commitment, desire and work rate” and added that he is an inspiration for those who might feel there is no way back to the first-team having fallen out of favour. “He has led by example,” he said. “He enjoys that role, rattling about people, getting stuck in – and scoring goals and scoring winners. He actually scored again [in training] today, it is unbelievable. So he can do it!”
Butcher senses a steelier attitude in the team and he has charged them with the task of ensuring that a poor run of form before last weekend’s victory has been firmly consigned to the past. “For a lot of boys the clock is ticking down towards the end of the season,” he said. “For some boys their careers could be over here at Hibs or they could be prolonged, and they have another chance. Who knows?”