Joey Barton has revealed Bristol Rovers are close to tying up three new signings as the end of the season nears.
Relegated Rovers play their final game of a tortuous campaign at Bloomfield Road against Blackpool on Sunday, but the manager’s focus has largely turned to next season and a rebuild over the summer.
With 11 first-team players out of contract, sweeping change awaits the Gas in the coming weeks and Barton says he is already close to wrapping up three additions to his squad.
“I think we’re close to doing three transfers that would certainly help us getting off the ground next season and help us be a side that’s going from a being a losing side to a competitive, winning side,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Friday.
“You’ve got to understand the marketplace. For us, it’s putting in those structures to make sure we can hit the ground running the moment this season ends and the moment that transfer window opens, because we need to act really, really quickly. We’ve got no time to waste and we need to change this culture from a losing, relegated culture to a competitive, promotion-chasing culture.
“We’re down the line on those. Obviously, it’s tough at the minute because you can’t do them officially. It always makes you a bit nervous as a manager when you have an agreement or virtually reach an agreement with people and you can’t sign the paperwork or get it lodged because you never know if somebody swoops in and gazump you. That can happen a lot of the time in football so you’ve got to keep things tightly to your chest until it’s absolutely certain.
“That would be a great start to the season for me and the owner. The owner likes to get his business done early so we can work with the guys and from our perspective, to know that we’ve got the wheels of motion by attracting people to your club when you’re not in the greatest spot from a recruitment standpoint, I think it sends a message of what Rovers are going to be like next season by a couple of signings early in the window.”
Clubs are not able to officially complete deals until the transfer window opens, with the planned date of June 9, meaning supporters may have to wait for announcements of new signings.
Rovers are not only bottom of the table, they are also bottom of League One’s scoring charts with just 40 goals in 45 games and bolstering their attacking options must be Barton’s top priority.
Bristol Live asked the manager what type of forward he was after to lead the line for the Gas next season.
“I think we have to take people who are proven. I wasn’t here when they’d recruited for the last couple of windows,” he replied. “It seems there was a lot of people aware of what they needed, including many, many fans and yourselves. It didn’t quite happen.
“We have to bring in people who we know can do a job. The experiment of taking non-league lads or lads who haven’t got a proven track record has failed disastrously. It really has.
“Sometimes it feels like people are playing computer games like Championship Manager or Football Manager.
“You’ve got to take people you know can do the job and do the job under pressure, do the job when the stadium is full or do the job when the your fans are getting on your back because you haven’t played well and you’ve gone behind. People who can withstand that intensity and still deliver a performance.
“We won’t solve everything in this summer window, it’s just not doable, but we can certainly make a good fist of it and that’s why we’re so keen to get a few done early and set the tone for what we’re going to be about because I know the target we’re going to have on our back and the expectation.
“We have to take players who can handle that adequately.”
A focus on a proven scoring threat will be music to the ears of Gasheads who have been subjected to far too many toothless attacking displays across a woeful campaign which will come to a merciful end on the Fylde coast at the weekend.
For some, it will be their last game in a Rovers shirt. Others have already likely played for the club for the final time, including Ed Upson, who is set to miss Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury incurred doing gym work.
He is among the players out of contract at the end of June, and Barton – who says 90 per cent of players’ futures have been decided – will meet them for end-of-season debriefs on Monday and Tuesday.
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“Some will be told ‘You’re no longer required, best of luck wherever you go’,” Barton said. “Others will be told exactly what’s expected of them and then it’s a case of getting them back in the building and hopefully they understand the process that we have to follow.
“There’s a lot of hard work that has to be done to change this culture around.”