At Highbury, Fleetwood Town converts to Bartonism
Fleetwood is home to the Cod Army. A population of just over 25,000 is going to be treated to a football revolution. New signings and a positive pre-season have brought excitement to the League One club. Joey Barton is Fleetwood Town's new head coach.
Joey Barton. We could spend all day talking about him. Controversy and quality defined in a single human entity. Oh, and a twitter account, Smiths lyrics, and the occasional witty remark.
He love for Fleetwood is known. He’s trained with the boys, often threatened to play for them. Now we'll find out whether putting him in charge is an even better idea. Last time I checked, he was a Burnley player. I wasn't far off when speculating on what he would do next and where else other than his beloved Fleetwood Town?
The former England international is taking quite the dip in quality. He played at the top level in England, Scotland and France but now finds himself in a third-tier dugout. The crowd is notably smaller. Just over 5,000 can fit in Highbury. Arsenal fans must wonder why it's called that? A fifth of the town’s population can attend home games and sometimes do.
The club's struggle to fill even a small venue is a nod to the team’s prior trials and tribulations. The Cod Army spent years swimming in the depths of non-league, where Highbury only ranked tenth in capacity. That’s right; there are non-league grounds bigger than this. But they don't have Joey Barton.
What of it? What approach has the former Burnley-QPR-Newcastle-Everton-Man City-Strangeways Prison man taken? For a start, he’s signed Ched Evans even if it’s only a loan deal for now. Controversy follows controversy, apparently. The former Sheffield United hero had limited game time with the Blades last campaign and wants to revive his career in Lancashire.
Barton’s reputation and respect within the game may serve him well with transfers. He’s been able to secure Rangers' Jason Holt on loan from fellow Scouser Steven Gerrard, even if one was red and the other blue. Chris Long came from Burnley. Both Long and Holt have the pedigree to light up the third division.
Barton also displayed his ruthless edge, letting eight players' contracts run down. He has a distinct style in mind that isn't for every player.
So just how is he setting up with Fleetwood? Pretty well to be honest. Their first friendly came against Salford City away. Fleetwood was well oiled. An empathic 4-0 win set the pre-season off with an electric start. Town followed that up with a trip to Hungary where they played one local side and a Serbian club. Fleetwood won both matches, scoring six goals in the process.
Reports describe dominant, clinical performances. Barton sets up his team to win. Why not treat a pan-European pre-season friendly like a Champions League final? Empathic wins bolster good form going into the season.
Fleetwood returned to play Tranmere Rovers from the National League. While the side hasn't faced League One opposition as yet, a pattern is emerging.
Town are incredibly precise. Their shots tend to find the back of the net. Eighty per cent of the time against Salford. Against Tranmere, they only had four shots, were rarely caught offside, and scored twice. They’ve defended well, conceding only once.
Barton is favouring players like Kyle Dempsey and Paddy Madden who have proven their efficiency from direct play. Barton himself was direct in everything he did. Fleetwood Town is being redone in his image.
Jason Holt is in the middle of it. The former Scottish international adds top-level experience to the side. He was famed in Scotland for his passing when he won trophies with Hearts and Rangers.
Fleetwood has two more pre-season friendlies before they start their League One campaign. The Cod Army will continue to absorb Barton's lessons and persona.
He’s got them playing like a team of Bartons. Hard to score against, drilled and determined.
Barton, of course, may have a detrimental effect on them. Temperamental qualities and a penchant for bookings will not help the side reach the Championship.
Yet, so far so good. The team is playing well. In the early doors, there’s no evidence they can’t challenge for promotion.