Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton says that if he had the budget Jack Ross has at Sunderland he would have won promotion to the Championship by now.
Barton had ambitions of winning the league with Fleetwood Town when he took over in June.
But with seven games to go, Town are eight points behind sixth-placed Doncaster Rovers with a game in hand. The Black Cats are third and 10 points behind leaders Luton Town with two games in hand.
Barton, whose side face Sunderland at the end of the month, says this season has been a learning curve for him, and if Town do not sneak into the play-offs he will be targeting promotion next term.
Town have 55 points with seven games to play, and asked if he would have taken that at the start of the season Barton said: “No, I thought we could win the league. I think I can win everything.
“I still think we can win the last seven games and get in the play-offs.
“I won’t stop believing that until it is mathematically not possible. That is my outlook to life. It is what made me the player I was.
“If I listened to other people or set my bar relatively low, I would not have played at the level I did. As a coach and a manager, I set the bar as high as I possibly can.
“Sometimes when you make a bold claim and are not able to back it up, then it can cause people to give you a little bit of stick. But on the flipside, you have to believe in yourself, and believe in what you are doing and where you are going.
“If we do not get there this year, then I will set everything in my mind to getting there next year.
“People forget I came into this job having never coached before. I didn’t know League One. I’d never played in this league.
“I did not know how to build a team or set up a team to win promotion.
“I will not have the same excuses next pre-season or the same naivete around team selections or tactics because I have learned enormous lessons.
“I hope they will stand me in good stead over my coaching journey and for Fleetwood Town next season.
“If you look at the journey for us as a team, not only is the culture and stuff that people do not see improving exponentially – there are things people are seeing on the pitch.
“Last year they had 57 points after 46 games and lost 21. We are seven games out on 55 points.
“We have emptied a lot of people out of the building who we did not think had the right psychology and the right talent to get us where we need to go.
“On the flipside, we have not been able to recruit everybody we would want in the building. But we have a chance to shuffle the pack on that in the summer.
“We have some really key components already here with us. I think that is what has emerged this season whether or not we are successful and get promoted. That is for a select few. There are only so many that can do that.
“It is two (up) automatic and one by the play-offs. Everyone judges those sides as being successful but, let’s be honest, if I had Sunderland’s budget I’d have them up by this point.
“Look at Portsmouth, who played at Wembley on Sunday with 85,000 in the stadium. It says a lot about what the clubs we are playing against have got on us.
“They have 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 years tradition, huge supporter bases and huge financial powers compared to clubs like us.
“Yeah, I think we will compete next year with whoever does not go up this year and whoever comes down. It looks like Ipswich and Bolton and another.
“I guarantee we will be a lot closer next year than we were this year.”
One of the reasons Town have not challenged for promotion is a lack of consistency.
Barton’s men have 15 wins, 10 draws and 14 losses, and have only strung together back-to-back wins three times all term.
They face Southend on Saturday aiming to make it three league wins in a row for the first time this term, after beating Plymouth 2-0 and Accrington Stanley 1-0.
Asked why Town have not managed three straight wins yet, Barton said: “Because the league is a tough league. Hence we have got 12 teams that can still be relegated and four that can still be promoted (automatically).
“I think Luton are probably up now. They have done enough, 11 points from third place
“It is a very competitive division. Look at some of the sides we had in there: Luton, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Barnsley – four teams who have only lost single-figure games. Charlton are very close in behind that.
“I think two teams strolled it (last season) – Blackburn and Wigan. I think the league this year has been more closely matched, with more quality at the top end.
“But also look at the sides in and around the bottom, the sides that have come into the division – your Wycombes, Accringtons and Luton, who will win the league by the look of it – they have been very competitive.
“Bradford get 18-20,000 in the stadium with a massive budget. Scunthorpe, who are a perennial play-off team, are looking over their shoulder. If you take your eye off the ball in this division you will struggle.
“It is all very well me saying we are going to be better next year but we have a lot of work to do.
“We have had an OK season and it is not over by any stretch. We could put a bit of icing on it but – who knows? – we could get to Wembley and put a cherry on top of it.
“We have got to keep professional because in this game – as the table shows – if you are not moving forwards you can very quickly move backwards.”