Has Joey Barton found stability at Fleetwood Town?
Background Image: David Dixon, CC BY-SA 2.0
Fleetwood Town have experienced quite a ride since re-establishing themselves as a club in 1997. They enjoyed six promotions in ten years between 2004 and 2014, and had six managers in seven years before appointing Joey Barton at the beginning of last season.
It’s Barton’s first foray into management after hanging up his boots upon taking the job. The Fishermen currently sit seventh in League One, eyeing up a play-off spot following an 11th-placed finish last term. Things are looking up under Barton’s management, and a man renowned for his constant antics might finally be finding his composure.
Fleetwood are unbeaten in their last five games and have the league’s third-highest goalscorer this season leading their line in Paddy Madden. They have scored 29 goals in 16 League One games, making them the fourth-most prolific team in the division. A mix of youth and experience seems to be of perfect proportion, with young players such as England under-20 goalkeeper Billy Crellin and former Liverpool midfielder Jordan Rossiter blossoming alongside mature heads such as 31-year-old Paul Coutts and centre-back Ashley Eastham, who has been at the club for over three years. Barton made only slight changes from last season, mindful of unsettling the squad, but complimenting them with quality additions such as full-back Danny Andrew and midfielder Josh Morris as well as striker Ched Evans on a permanent deal.
However as successful-a-manager he has been this season, Barton doesn’t come without controversy. Two days after he received League One’s Manager of the Month award for September, for winning ten points from four games, he faced a charge of Actual Bodily Harm against Barnsley manager Daniel Stendel. The two managers were alleged to have had an altercation following a fixture in April and Barton is due to stand trial next year after pleading not guilty. Just a month after the event, videos emerged online of a mass brawl on a beach in which a man reported to be Barton punches three men to the floor, although sources close to the Blackpool Gazette later denied his involvement...
There is no denying that Barton is a passionate man. His passion has transmitted to his players, creating a fiercely competitive attitude which has surely contributed to their good form this season. Barton accused Sunderland of ‘avoiding’ his Fleetwood team earlier this season after the Black Cats decided to postpone their clash due to international call-ups. The manager bought in players he knew well already, many also from Merseyside (such as Rossiter and ex-Everton player Conor McAleny) who he knew would buy into his aggressive style.
This tactic, alongside new systems, employed in his favoured 4-3-3 formation, mixes traditional football values with the recent technological advancement of the game. The players are visibly enjoying playing under Barton and are buying into his system. Being a big name in football, the young manager has been able to attract high-quality players, most of whom have played at a higher level than League One before.
Fleetwood seems to have found themselves a quality young manager. They are an ambitious team, and Barton has spoken openly of his personal ambitions to manage in the Premier League in future. If he were to guide Fleetwood to the Championship at the end of this season, he’ll be well on his way. But for now, following a long-term injury to key player Rossiter, as well as Barton’s former Burnley teammate Dean Marney being sidelined for an extended period with personal issues, the 37-year-old must focus on the task in hand; starting with a key clash with 8th-placed Lancashire rivals Blackpool this weekend.