The choice is stark for Terry Butcher.
His managerial career in England accumulated only disappointment while his reputation in Scotland has never been higher. So what decision would he make when Barnsley offer an alternative to his job at Inverness Caledonian Thistle? There is more than football to consider, even though it would be the opportunity to prove himself down south that would be the greatest lure for Butcher in moving to the team that is bottom of the Championship. Butcher held "constructive discussions" yesterday, with more talks planned for today.
Butcher's career in the dugout has been one of contrasts. At Motherwell and Inverness he confirmed his reputation as a motivator and the kind of inspirational figure who could maximise the ability of his players. Yet at Coventry City, Sunderland and Brentford, he achieved only failure, not even lasting two years at any of the three clubs. There were mitigating factors, not least that Coventry was his first job in management and he had to step up from being a player to take charge of Sunderland in a time of crisis. None the less, these experiences will have weighed heavily in his thinking.
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The lure of Inverness will be been strong. Butcher and his wife, Rita, are settled and perhaps have only enjoyed their surroundings so much when they previously lived in Stirling. It is in Scotland that the Butchers have enjoyed the longest and most stable periods of their lives. It has also been satisfying, professionally, the first division title two seasons ago being Butcher's first prize as a manager.
He has also rebuilt the squad, having at first inherited the stalwarts such as Grant Munro, Ross Tokely, Stuart Golabek, Roy McBain and Russell Duncan. Relying heavily on the contacts and eye for talent of the chief scout, Steve Marsella, Inverness have signed emerging talents from England and combined them with Scottish players either at the beginning of their careers or seeking a second chance to impress. The result has been a fine, athletic, spirited and attack-minded team that has lost only three Clydesdale Bank Premier Leagues games and lie second in the table behind Celtic.
A European place is more than achievable but Butcher also had to weigh up the potential loss of several of his talented players who are out of contract in the summer, such as Andrew Shinnie, Owain Tudur-Jones and Aaron Doran. On his way to the formal talks with the Barnsley owner, Patrick Cryne, yesterday, Butcher would have wondered if he had already achieved the best work that might be carried out at Inverness, even though the team meet Hearts in the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final later this month.
The comforts of living in Inverness would not have been discounted easily, though. "I love it here," Butcher said last season. "It's not really a football city. It's very quiet. You can drive from one side of Inverness to the other in 10 minutes unless it's rush hour, when it takes 11 minutes."
Barnsley, too, are a club in trouble, bottom of the Championship – although not adrift. Butcher is believed to have been adamant that any discussions over the job would include a role for his assistant, Maurice Malpas, and both men might similarly feel that this could be a last opportunity to succeed in England, where they have both encountered disappointment (Malpas lasted only 10 months as manager of Swindon Town in 2008).
The spells at Coventry and Sunderland have always irked Butcher. He regretted continuing his playing career while at Coventry and is now adamant the player/manager role is impossible. He tried to run every aspect of the club and was still capable of raging – against the players, the fates – in the dressing room. Butcher has always acknowledged a dual personality: he is quiet and conservative away from football, never happier than when watching episodes of Rumpole of the Bailey, while his career is littered with moments of fury involving doors and dugouts being kicked, and damaged, in disgust.
He has calmed down, but not enough to escape the occasional outburst of wrath on the touchline. Malpas tends to be the consoling voice and is often credited with being the more tactically astute but, in truth, their work as a partnership is more complex than the stereotyping might suggest. They will want Marsella to join them as part of the management team and the presence of his friends and colleagues will ensure that Butcher does not lapse into the mistakes he made at Coventry and Sunderland. "It came too quick, far too quick," he said of his time at Coventry. "I was 31, too young." Butcher was an obsessive, once running out of petrol on the motorway while considering team issues and on another occasion trying out formations with salt and pepper pots during Christmas lunch.
He is more relaxed now, and has a wider perspective but still has a choice to make. Scotland is essentially home, now, and during his spell as manager of Sydney FC, he found a pub, The Pyrmont Bridge Hotel in Darling Harbour, to watch Scottish matches live. He also kept in regular contact with Malpas while in Australia, and also Betty Pryde, the football secretary at Motherwell.
It is a defining moment for Butcher.