Barton’s challenge to Fleetwood Town’s players

Conor McAleny has been described as a 'match winner'
Conor McAleny has been described as a 'match winner'
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Fleetwood Town’s new head coach Joey Barton has challenged his players to show they are fit to succeed.|Don’t miss the latest football transfer news and gossip from leagues in England, Scotland and Europe with

Having seen Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers and Rotherham United promoted in 2017/18 – after being pushed all the way by Shrewsbury Town – Barton has three key objectives in mind for the new season.

One is fitness, another is a tight-knit squad and the third is a sprinkling of star quality.

It means that, for the moment, he is holding back on bringing players in until he assesses whether the existing squad matches those attributes.

He said: “I think what you need to do is work out what they were not doing so well, why they were not doing it so well and start to reprogramme that.

“There are lots of facets to that; I think if you are going to be in a league with teams that have a bigger budget than you, then you need to be fitter and mentally more agile than they are.

“If we all did the same thing the team with the biggest budget would win, so we have to get creative on the field and off it in terms of personnel, in terms of development of the people and the players that are already here.

“I mean, if Andy (Pilley, Town chairman) wants to give me a couple of hundred million, then it is a different conversation!

“But that is not Fleetwood Town.

“We have lots of good players here, young players, we maybe need to find out how we can get more out of them.

“Some of them last season, I think by their own admission, underperformed.

“On the flip side of that I just see it as opportunities to get better - that comes first and foremost in pre-season - and getting fit.

“Being the fittest team in the league or there or thereabouts, that is massive; Shrewsbury Town and Rotherham have shown that this year.”

While Barton’s betting ban ruled him out of football for 13 months, he still knows enough about Town’s squad to see their potential.

He said: “Look at some of the players; the Ash Hunters, Conor McAlenys, Kyle Dempsey – they are match winners.

“Paddy Madden is a phenomenal goal scorer at this level, Bobby Grant has shown he can open teams up.

“We lost a lot of goals in terms of Jordy Hiwula leaving, he was a big goalscorer last year.

“We have got to make sure that the lads who are going to go into those positions are going to step up because if we are going to be successful, we need to be scoring 60, 70 league goals next year.

“The challenge will be in pre-season is: who is going to do that?”