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'He's definitely different to how he played' - The Irish striker thriving under Joey Barton

Paddy Madden on how a move to League One outfit Fleetwood Town has reignited his career.

Paddy Madden (right) has been scoring regularly at Fleetwood, who are managed by Joey Barton (left).
Paddy Madden (right) has been scoring regularly at Fleetwood, who are managed by Joey Barton (left).

IN 2018, English-based Irish strikers who were both playing and scoring regularly were hard to come by.

And while he may have been doing it at a lower level than some more high-profile names, Paddy Madden was one anomaly.

In addition to 10 goals last season, the Dubliner has 13 goals in 27 appearances so far this campaign, meaning he is more than half of the way towards the target of 20 he set for himself at the start of this year.

Meanwhile, Madden’s Fleetwood team finished 14th last season and are currently 11th in League One, while the forward is confident they have been moving in the right direction since he signed last January.

Unsurprisingly, there were a number of options for the forward, after he decided to leave Scunthorpe, having fallen out of favour with the management at Glanford Park. 

Having joined the Iron for a fee believed to be in the region of £300,000, Madden had a largely successful four years there, with 60 goals leaving him 10th in the club’s all-time scorers list.

However, he says it was the facilities at Fleetwood that convinced him to choose the Fishermen ahead of alternative offers. They are “a country mile” ahead of any other club he has played for, suggesting only English teams in the Premier League and the top end of the Championship would have better resources at their disposal.

Everything is in place for a Championship team and we’ll look to get there as quickly as we can,” he tells The42.

This season, he says, a lack of consistency and injury problems have been the main reasons for their current absence from the promotion spots. However, as someone who knows League One well, having spent no fewer than eight seasons there, Madden is confident that the situation will change for the better.

“I think the squad we have here are definitely a top-six team,” he says.

“It’s just about getting a run at the right time in this league. When I was at Yeovil, on 29 December, we hit a run — we were around the same position we are now [at Fleetwood]. We won eight games in a row and were touching the top two for automatic spots — the likes of Bournemouth and Doncaster.

“We ended up going up through the play-offs. It was the same buzz around the place, where people were probably thinking we weren’t going to do it.

“There’s still half the season to go, so there’s a lot of time to pull those points back.”

Guiseley AFC v Fleetwood Town - Emirates FA Cup - Second Round - Nethermoor Park Fleetwood Town manager Joey Barton during the recent Emirates FA Cup second round match at Nethermoor Park, Guiseley. Source: Martin Rickett

Fleetwood also happen to have unquestionably the most high-profile manager in the league. Given his various problems as a player, there was considerable scepticism in certain quarters towards the end of last season, when Joey Barton was announced as the club’s new manager. Yet Madden has been pleasantly surprised by what the 36-year-old has brought to the table.

“When everyone heard it was Joey Barton, you’re probably thinking he’s going to be ranting and raving. But you don’t judge a book by its cover.

“He’s been brilliant with all the players. Everyone enjoys working with him and loves him here.

“He’s definitely different to how he played. I grew up watching him play and he’s completely the opposite as a manager. His man-management skills are second to none. He makes sure you’re right mentally off the pitch, so for his first management job, he’s doing great.”

Madden continues: “He made a lot of changes. He hired a lot of staff with different ideas, which is good. For example, the food after training is all good, the travel after training is even better. He’s making sure everything’s in place, like he’d be used to when he played.

“He’s just treating us the way he wanted to be treated as a player. So the players don’t need to worry about anything, and with the chairman [Andy Pilley] backing him, they work well together.”

The team’s style is not always especially pretty on the eye. As Madden points out, there is rarely scope for “that attractive Man City kind of football” in League One. You take one touch and there are suddenly three players around you, whereas in the Premier League, sides are afforded more time on the ball. England’s third tier, more than anything else, is an endurance test. The 46 league matches come thick and fast, so it is often the strongest and fittest clubs that ultimately prevail.

Yet such an environment is not exactly unfamiliar for mentally tough characters like Barton and Madden.

“The good thing about the gaffer is you know where you stand with him,” the Irish star adds.

If he doesn’t fancy you as a player, he’ll tell you. If he likes you, he’ll tell you. He’s black and white in that sense, he’ll tell you how things are.

“I’ve yet to see him go mad and maybe he won’t do that, because he’s very big on the mental side of things as well. Down the line, he might go with that approach, but I’ve yet to see it.

“But what he is doing, he’s doing brilliantly. There’s definitely been a change in [terms of the] positivity around the place. A lot of the boys are playing with smiles on their faces.”

Madden can afford to smile himself. The 28-year-old has been a regular fixture under Barton and is clearly a player the manager trusts.

“The good thing about the gaffer is that he knows I know what this league is all about. I’ve scored a lot of goals and he fills you with confidence. 

“He always says he’s not going to tell me what positions to get into in the box, because he knows from scoring 100 goals over here that I know how to do that myself. He won’t try to tell you how to do things that you’re already good at. He’ll leave that to you.

“But he will tell you what other aspects of your game you need to improve. We all need to improve on things, so it’s good to have a gaffer that knows your weaknesses.”

The respect is undoubtedly mutual. After Madden’s recent brace against Doncaster, Barton told reporters: “I’m delighted for Pad because he does a lot of unselfish work for the team. He does not ever complain if he is asked to play slightly out of position or do a tactical role to cause the opposition problems or to stop them causing us problems. He just gets on with it and runs his socks off.

“He is a credit to his profession and sets the tone for our team in lots of ways.”

Leicester City v Fleetwood Town - FA Cup Replay - King Power Stadium Kildare-born defender Cian Bolger has appeared 16 times for Fleetwood this season. Source: EMPICS Sport

Madden is not the only Irishman at the club. 26-year-old Celbridge native Cian Bolger — a former Leicester City youth player who joined Fleetwood from Southend in 2016 — has also been an important squad member, featuring 17 times in all competitions this season.

“Wherever you go, if you have that Irish connection, you seem to chat to each other quicker,” he explains.

“[Cian has] been brilliant with me, we get on very well. He’s not one of these modern-day centre-halves you see coming through — he’s good on the ball as well, but he’ll stick his head in anywhere. Some modern-day centre-backs don’t do that anymore and are probably afraid of getting a smack.

Cian’s played a bit of GAA, so he has that kind of toughness about him. He’s a good player, I’m enjoying playing with him.”

Madden’s excellent form means he could yet repeat one of the highlights of his career, which came in 2013. The striker featured as a substitute in the 69th minute to win his one and only Ireland cap to date, towards the end of the Giovanni Trapattoni era, during a 0-0 friendly draw with Wales.

The player subsequently fell under the radar again during Martin O’Neill’s reign, though with Mick McCarthy recently taking over the national team, he has not given up hope yet of adding to his sole appearance.

“A lot of strikers in the squad obviously deserve to be there. They play at a higher level than me, so that’s fair enough. But if he goes down the route of calling up League One players, I’m sure I’ll probably be first on the list, because of the amount of goals I’ve scored in this league.

“If you look at the likes of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, they have League One players in their squad and they’re doing reasonably well. I don’t see why Ireland should be any different.”

Paddy Madden Madden earned his one and only Ireland cap against Wales in 2013. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

To gain further international recognition would be another incredible moment in the career of the accomplished striker, who first dreamt of playing for Ireland while watching his elder brother Chris represent the country as an amateur international.

After recognising his talent while watching him during a kickabout on the road, neighbours of Madden encouraged him to play for the local Coolock-based side, St Columban’s Boys. From there, he lined out with renowned Dublin schoolboy clubs, Home Farm and Cherry Orchard, scoring prolifically wherever he went.

My ma would have brought me to all my football games. I sometimes had to get three buses to training, so that was a pain, having to walk some of the way or wait for another one.

“But it was what I wanted to do and to be fair, my ma would often come home from work and bring me straight to training. She deserves a lot of credit.”

In July 2008, shortly after turning 18, Madden signed with League of Ireland outfit Bohemians. He had an immediate impact with the club’s A team, and made his senior debut by the end of the year.

Paddy Madden Madden pictured playing for Bohemians in 2010. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Dalymount Park proved the perfect location for the young forward to learn his trade. In addition to an experienced and well-regarded manager in Pat Fenlon, Madden had three of the best strikers ever to grace the domestic game to rely upon for advice and guidance — Glenn Crowe, Jason Byrne and Neale Fenn.

“Fenny’s touch was one of the best touches I’ve ever seen live — he’d trap anything,” he recalls.

“Crowey and Jason Byrne would make sure I stayed out with them after training to do extra shooting. There was no going in early. They’d say: ‘You’re staying out for another half hour to an hour.’

“I was a young striker going in and who better to learn off than them three — all different kinds of strikers.”

Nonetheless, given the calibre of players he was competing against for a spot in the starting XI, it was no surprise that the youngster was sent out on loan in search of first-team football.

In 2009, a brief spell under Dermot Keely at Shelbourne in the First Division saw the teenage striker hit six goals in 14 appearances. Fenlon was sufficiently impressed to recall him, with Madden ending the campaign by scoring a couple of important goals to help Bohs lift the league title.

He continued to impress the following season and consequently, English football and League One came calling. On January Deadline Day in 2011, the youngster joined Carlisle United on a two-and-a-half year deal.

With the benefit of hindsight though, he admits the decision was “rushed” and it never really worked out for Madden at the Cumbrian club.

As he got to grips with English football, the young forward was used mainly from the bench in his first campaign. Having impressed the following pre-season, he suffered a broken foot that slowed his progress and kept the frustrated player out of action for several months.

By the time Madden returned, the team were playing well, so again, he found a place in the starting XI hard to come by.

Being away from his family and largely consigned to the bench was an unfamiliar feeling, and the situation was exacerbated the next year, where he got injured in pre-season, suffering ankle ligament damage that left him sidelined for a sustained period.

But if fate conspired against Madden at Carlisle, the opposite appeared to be true of his Yeovil stint. Having initially joined on a one-month loan, he did enough to secure a permanent deal and went on to score a phenomenal 22 goals in 35 League One appearances for the club, as they were promoted to the Championship amid a memorable 2012-13 campaign. 

I think I was 10 goals behind the top scorer in the league [when I signed]. I managed to catch him and win golden boot and get promoted with Yeovil, so it was kind of a fairytale ending to a difficult start to the season,” he remembers.

“At the time, the squad were doing reasonably well [at Carlisle]. The manager obviously had other ideas and I found it hard to get into that team.

“[The Yeovil manager] Gary Johnson played a different style that suited — two up front, I had a great partner there in James Hayter, who would just pin every ball and give me the freedom to float around.

“My game is not holding up the ball, it’s getting on to things and picking up seconds and starting the play from there.

“I always had confidence in myself that I’d score goals. It was just getting the opportunity to play regular football and prove myself.”

Source: Fleetwood Town Football Club/YouTube

The following season, with the club struggling to adapt to a higher level and looking like relegation candidates, Madden was placed on the transfer list, going from top scorer to surplus to requirements in a matter of months. Johnson suggested attitude problems were to blame for the player’s surprise exclusion.

And though he would go on to recover impressively at Scunthorpe, this brief experience of Championship football served as a reminder of how quickly positive situations can turn sour in football.

Particularly for an Irish player who is away from family and friends for long periods, surviving in the cutthroat business of English football is no mean feat, and Madden deserves credit for succeeding where most have failed

I’m loving life here [in Fleetwood],” he says. “Me and my missus have bought a house up this way. I always find if you’re travelling to different places, it’s not good for your body. We made the decision to buy a house, so we’re not travelling too far for work and training.

“I think that’s the side of things fans obviously wouldn’t see. Different players go to different clubs and they’re like: ‘Oh, why hasn’t he settled quicker?’ You have to remember that players are changing their whole life.

“I had an apartment [in Scunthorpe]. You have to change-up and stuff. Them bits are a bit of a nightmare and a bit of a drain.

“You’re not living in your own place, it kind of is a bit of a burden on you. But I’ve settled down now and am loving my football.

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Paul Fennessy

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