It has been a ground-breaking season for Fleetwood Town boss Joey Barton as he secured his first job in management, but his commitment to promoting youth development has seen him create history with the Cod Army.
Defender Nathan Sheron became the first player from the club’s academy to feature in the EFL after making his debut in last August's 2-0 victory over Oxford United.
Sheron made his first senior appearance for Fleetwood Town in the EFL Trophy the previous season, and Barton says the introduction of the EFL’s club developed rule has opened the door for younger players to make their mark.
“Sheron has been the perfect example of that this season, he has been put on the bench, then had to come on in games, so he has benefitted massively from it," he said.
“I think the introduction of the rule is a step in the right direction, because it is giving some of our young players the opportunity to play in first-team games. You are made to think about which player you are going to include in the squad, it's an opportunity to blood the younger players in the squad into the first team.”
Barton has used competitions such as the Checkatrade Trophy to bring the younger players in his squad through, and believes it has provided the perfect pathway.
“The more we can do to bridge that gap, whether it is through the Checkatrade Trophy or the EFL club developed rule, it can only be a good thing,” he added.
“The Checkatrade Trophy has been the perfect example, it has given players who haven’t been playing, the chance to show off their talents. There's nothing that beats a football game in front of a crowd, where there’s points or a result on the line.”
The 36-year-old came through Manchester City's academy to feature in the first-team squad in 2002, and says there is a responsibility on former players who are now managers to build a pathway for future stars.
“Youth development has been important for me because I was a young English player coming through the British academy,” he said.
“I think there's a moral responsibility on people who have been given the opportunity in the past to make sure there is a pathway for future players coming through the academy.
“I'm a big believer in the talent pool in this country; over the last 200 years, it has shown that we can produce elite level footballers.”
“For a club like Fleetwood Town, we won’t be winning the Premier League any time soon, but we can win in so many other ways, and developing youth from the local area is a chance to win.
“When I can, I try to get out and watch the U18s side on a Saturday morning, because I remember when I was at Manchester City, whether it was Kevin Keegan or Joe Royle, you'd know that the manager was taking an interest.
“If the younger players within the squad show willingness and show that they're good enough, I will give them the opportunity.”