Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton issued a warning to Championship and Premier League clubs that Town will not have their players stolen as winger Wes Burns became the latest linked with a move.
READ MORE: Barton thrilled to welcome back Ched Evans
National media reports say Middlesbrough are one of a handful of second-tier clubs chasing the winger.
Burns, 24, penned a new deal in the summer which runs at least for another two years. The forward joined Town from Bristol City for an undisclosed six-figure sum in January 2017.
Burns became a first-team regular under Barton last season, also playing as a wing-back.
The versatile Burns started this season in a wide attacking role in Town’s 3-1 win at Peterborough United on Saturday.
Town have already batted away a bid from Premier League club Everton for young keeper Billy Crellin this summer.
Barton revealed Town have had interest in some stars but would not name names.
And with prized assets like Burns, Ash Hunter and Paddy Madden on lengthy deals, Barton stressed that Town would have to sell players but will only do so for a fair price.
The head coach said: “We have already had interest for players. We are sensible about it. We want players to come to Fleetwood and help us to get promoted.
“Off the back of that, bigger clubs with bigger budgets will want to come and steal your best players.
“We need to make sure they do not get stolen from us and move on with a fair assessment and a fair price for everyone.
“As it stands, I think the club has to sell players. That is something that we have to do.
“Unfortunately in the past players have gone out of the building on frees. It has not been ideal.
“Even this summer we lost Ashley Nadesan, a young player developed from non-league, who walked out for free.
“It was something that happened just before we got here and I could not quite convince him.
“He decided that he wanted to go earlier on. We did everything we could to keep him.
“Now we are developing players from our academy for our first team and we want our first-team players to go and play in higher divisions.
“Nothing would make me prouder as a coach than to watch lads who have been part of the journey with us playing for Premier League clubs. It would be fantastic.
“But to do that they have to be successful here, work hard here and contribute to Fleetwood Town having a successful football culture.”
Barton would not say which of his players have caught the eye of higher-league clubs.
He said: “They have to stay private. You do not want to talk about other people’s business publicly.
“If they want to make it public, fine. We are not going to do that.”