League One is far from the limit of Fleetwood Town boss Graham Alexander’s ambition.
The former Burnley and Preston defender marked two years in charge at Highbury with an exclusive interview with The Gazette.
And he revealed his hopes that last season’s Wembley heroics are just the start – his own ambitions matched by those around him at Fleetwood.
Chairman Andy Pilley revealed earlier this week his hopes of seeing Town play Championship football within five years.
It’s a vision shared by ambitious young boss Alexander, who secured promotion in his first full year of management.
But he knows Town cannot rely on spending power alone to achieve such a goal.
“We realise it’s a different challenge at this level,” the 43-year-old told The Gazette.
“We’re not a big fish, we know that. We can compete with most teams in League Two or the Conference. “In this league that’s not the case.
“We have to find a different way of competing. That’s what you have to do, that’s the challenge.
“If you don’t compete you die. But the ambition and fire are still there, still burning.
“We have to keep working hard and intelligently.
“But it’s good to be part of a club that wants to achieve, wants to move on. That’s what we all want to do as professionals.”
Alexander admitted his first six months in charge at Highbury had been the toughest hurdle to get over in his career as he played a waiting game to put his own squad in place.
And he made it clear he’d continue to make the kind of tough decisions which have been at the heart of his team-building strategy.
“The first six months were very difficult,” he told The Gazette.
“It wasn’t my team. I had a set of players who were loyal to the previous manager, and rightly so because they had enjoyed success with him.
“I’d been there before as a player and I understood it. But I knew what the work was that we had to do.
“We had to make very many tough decisions but they were for the right reason. I’ll always do that.
“If a decision is there to be made I’ll do it, no matter how uncomfortable or hard it is to do. That’s what I’m employed to do.”
Alexander has rarely made a secret of the fact he’s on a learning curve.
But he told The Gazette he relishes the challenge of leading Fleetwood Town on their charge up the leagues.
He said: “It’s been a right eye-opener, it really has. Every day there has been a challenge.
“But that’s why you get the butterflies in your stomach when you wake up.
“Everybody loves a challenge. You’re not always going to win them, but if you give them your best shot that’s the least you can ask of yourself.”
And he revealed for the first time his real pride in seeing the team he had built climb the Wembley steps, enjoying a moment of glory before the hard work of adapting to life in League One began.
“Last season was superb,” he said. “I loved it. I knew what the target was, what was set when I came into the job.
“For us as a group of staff to achieve that was fantastic.
“It all culminated in an amazing experience at Wembley.
“The pride I felt when the whistle went, and then seeing the players go up those steps... I’d been lucky enough to do that.
“When you see your players do that and know what they’ve been through, it will live with me for ever.
“Those bonds are strong. But they all know that was last season. You have to move on to the next level and the next challenge.”
That challenge continues on Saturday, when Sheffield United are the visitors to Highbury.
It is the beginning of a festive programme which will also see Town compete on an Olympic stage, Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena having been used in the 2012 games.
Fleetwood are expected to welcome back Jamie Proctor from suspension for Saturday’s game.
He is set to replace Martin Paterson, who returned to Huddersfield Town after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the 1-0 defeat at Swindon Town 11 days ago.