Ian Holloway: Joey Barton has created an almost impossible job for himself at Bristol Rovers – Ian Holloway
Joey Barton’s task is to turn a huge influx of new recruits into an elite regiment if the Bristol Rovers are to come out of the many lost battles of recent seasons.
This cannot be done overnight and will require fans to show a higher degree of patience and willingness to ignore setbacks than is normally the case in modern play.
Seventeen new signings and over 20 starts since the end of last season are horrific in some ways. But I totally support Joey’s decision to make such drastic changes because a rot had set in and needed to be eradicated.
The manager’s job had been entrusted to him as handling the package since Darrell Clarke left and, unfortunately for Joey, it was he who was holding the package when it exploded.
A group of players the club had trusted had proven unworthy of this, not only in terms of results, but also in some of the things Joey saw on the training ground when he arrived.
They were well documented and I’m sure they played a major role in his decision to start a new team. Now comes the job of drilling newcomers into a successful unit.
This can only be done at the cost of hours of hard work. Watching his players practice, Joey will begin to discover who the leaders are and who the followers are.
You don’t want too many leaders on a team because that creates arguments. This was particularly the case with the brilliant Dutch team of the 1970s, filled with brilliant individuals, but unable to win a tournament.
The players were constantly arguing with the coaches and among themselves. The ideal is to have several potential captains, whose knowledge and experience rubs off on the youngest of the team.
In this regard, I find the signing of Leon Clarke and Brett Pitman by Joey, aged 36 and 33, respectively, particularly interesting and encouraging.
It’s not just that the pair share over 300 league goals. They know the game inside and out and can help the coolest faces on the squad deal with pressure many of them will never have encountered – playing in front of 8,000 home fans.
They do not necessarily have to be role models in all respects. Some of the best forwards I have played or coached with were bad coaches.
What Clarke and Pitman can do at this point in their careers is offer timely advice on the pitch, helping less experienced guys deal with game situations.
Both will score goals, with good serve, and this has been a problem for Rovers since Graham Coughlan pulled off a miracle by signing Jonson Clarke-Harris.
I believe Coughlan stepped down as manager because he knew his star rookie was going to be sold. Since then, the Rovers have handed over the responsibility of finding the back of the net largely in the hands of the rookies.
Clarke and Pitman weren’t signed on as investments, but rather to get goals right away. And fair play to the board for funding the salaries of two senior guys with their background.
At the moment, Rovers players are strangers to each other. They need time to learn about each other’s play, and Joey needs time to assess them.
He will discover the individuals at each training session, see who wants the ball and which of them demonstrate leadership qualities.
Their reputation is now on the line. When you inherit a losing team, you can point the finger at many other people, but there comes a time when it is on your side and your responsibility.
It’s not fair to judge the Rovers in the new look yet and I’d settle for this season to be a season of progress towards success in 2022-23.
Joey has taken some drastic action and it means a massive test of his management skills. He didn’t like the attitude he found in the dressing room when he joined the club and now needs to rekindle the kind of spirit that has made the Rovers famous for much of their history.
The players must all adhere to it. When you do so many signings in a short period of time it is unrealistic to expect them all to be successful, but if 75% of them are successful the club will be better off.
What fans need to do is accentuate all the positives, giving the new men a fair chance to perform at their best and wear the blue and white wedges with pride.
One of the hardest things to teach a new squad is how to work without the ball, both individually and collectively, to become a strong defensive team.
It’s not just about tactics and acceptance of how Joey wants to play. It’s about understanding the kind of runs a teammate does and how to move around to cover and support them.
If you’ve been watching Chelsea since Thomas Tuchel took over, the way they work together to shut down opponents when they don’t have the ball is fantastic.
It comes from repeating training drills, holding meetings, and watching movies about how other top teams operate as a unit.
From an offensive standpoint, there has to be constant work on the set pieces, which are so important in scoring goals. All of this takes time to perfect.
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The longer Joey has to work with his recruits, the better off they will become. What is essential is that the supporters avoid reacting instinctively to poor results and recognize that the manager is not a magician.
I say bravo to him for having pinned his colors to the mast and for having had the courage to start from scratch.
In doing so, he created an almost impossible job for himself. But he’s a competitor by nature, he’ll enjoy a challenge and, with the right support, he can make things happen.
Anyone watching England’s game in Poland this week will have seen how home fans can keep their squad until the final whistle and achieve an unlikely result.
Let’s see that same desire and passion at Memorial Stadium this season. I cannot stress enough the difference this can make.
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