There is one game left of the League One season and Fleetwood Town head coach Joey Barton says he has spent his first year in management clearing up other people’s mess – and believes he has been proven right about the players he has shipped out.
Barton has transformed Town’s playing squad since taking over from John Sheridan last June.
Sheridan had inherited Uwe Rosler’s squad and managed to keep the side in League One but Barton has rung the changes, with fan favourites Bobby Grant and Kyle Dempsey on the move in January, when Cian Bolger joined Lincoln City and Conor McAleny went to Kilmarnock on loan.
Only Bolger has gone on to be a regular starter at his new club.
Chris Long, Michael Donohue and Matt Urwin all left on permanent deals in January, as did Grant, with Barton sending out Harvey Saunders, Lewis Baines and Gethin Jones on loan, along with McAleny and Dempsey.
Only Stoke City defender Harry Souttar came into his first team in that window, with Macauley Southam-Hales also joining from Barry Town.
Barton hopes the fans can see that his decisions were right and gave a pathway to young players like James Hill, Barry Baggley and Ryan Rydel.
He said: “It never ends this job. The minute it ends is when you get the sack.
“As a player, you couldn’t wait to get on the plane, get on holiday and rest the weary bones after the hard slog of a season. As a manager I am more excited now than I have ever been at any point in the season because every possibility is back on the table.
“You get an opportunity to now make this even better. Every day you come in and try to nudge it along.
“My first year, when I look back at it in hindsight, has been spent clearing up other people’s mess – a mess of players, a mess of psychology. That was not an easy task.
“It is all very well ploughing forward and improving, but sometimes when you take over a company there is a lot of debt to be cleared, inefficient people to be cleared out of the way.
“It has not been straightforward at times. The fans have not always agreed with it. Fan favourites have left.
“There have been murmurs of discontent but look at everyone who has left the building and what they have done subsequently. I’ve been right.
“I knew I was right at the time but it is nice to sit here knowing I have been right.
“The challenge from here is to continue to be right going forward. I will not always get it right but it gives me great confidence.
“It is not just me that makes the decisions. We have a real open dialogue in there between the chairman (Andy Pilley) and the chief executive (Steve Curwood).
“The coaching staff always get an input and it is great to sit here and think we tend to make the right decisions.
“We have not got it right tactically and technically all the time, but in terms of player personnel we lost 12 players in January and we got better.
“We have suffered a bit in recent weeks because we have not got the depth of squad we would have if we had a Cian Bolger, Conor McAleny or Kyle Dempsey, but we are giving the young players opportunities. That has given Ryan Rydel, Barry Baggley, James Hill and Eddie Clarke a chance.
“Dan Mooney was on the bench and Laurence Smith has been. They would not have got those opportunities if we had those senior players there.
“I could not leave Kyle Dempsey, who is one of our highest-paid players, out of the squad to put Barry Baggley in. But Barry Baggley is going to be a miles better player for us going forward than Kyle Dempsey ever will be.
“That is the challenge of being a football manager. When the fans are voicing their discontent, it is hard for me to say, ‘Just stick with it’. It is hard to explain your plans all the time.
“I think slowly but surely the Fleetwood fans who maybe did not want me as their manager are accepting that we are here to do the best job we can possibly do for the football club and leave this club in an unbelievable place.That is all we can do.”
Barton says Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Sunderland helped convince him he has changed the culture at Highbury as they bid to end the season with back-to-back wins at Wycombe Wanderers.
He said: “I have to taper my impatient ambitions. I wanted to win the league, however unrealistic that may seem at the time. It is my belief that you can win every game.
“That is how I got to the level I did as a player. If I had stopped and thought, ‘This is what I’m entitled to; this is what my ability allows’, then I’d have struggled to make it as a League One or Two player.
“But I was able to project myself and make myself a better player than I had the ability to be.
“Nothing has changed for me as a manager. What I want to install here is a belief.
“Results like Tuesday night go a long way towards helping me and the coaching staff to believe what we are saying to them every day – that you are great players, that you are capable of really good things, that you can push yourself to a higher level, improve and get everything you want out of the game.
“I took over a side that was in a weird spot. They did not believe. They were fighting relegation most of the season.
“Mad things had gone on clearly because a manager had lost his job. Results were not in a positive spiral.
“It takes time to change that culture. I thought I could do it a lot quicker than I have been able to do it. That will take time.
“That is probably the most frustrating thing. We are getting there.
“We are moving towards it but it is not happening quick enough for me.
“I always have to balance that ambition because if it was down to me I could drive things a lot quicker.
“But it is not just down to me, it is down to everyone at this football club – players, staff, coaches, right the way through to the board and the fans. It takes time.”