Preston’s youth academy has a mixed success rate, and some players have maybe been cases of unfulfilled potential.
North End have seen Ben Davies become a star, and the likes of Andrew Lonergan, Kevin Kilbane and Paul McKenna have been homegrown regulars at Deepdale.
Yet some will look back at an era of youngsters who promised a lot, but fizzled out at Preston before they really got going. The main names in that crop were Conor McLaughlin, Adam Barton, Danny Mayor and Jamie Proctor.
All four had real potential, and were hovering around the Preston first team around 2010 to 2012. McLaughlin was a solid right back, Mayor was an electric winger who could go past players for fun, and Proctor had been banging goals in for the Preston youth setup.
Issues confronted all four though; McLaughlin suffered a dislocated ankle that stunted his development, whilst Mayor and Proctor were cast aside by Graham Westley, joining Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea City respectively.
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McLaughlin is now at Sunderland, Mayor is with Plymouth Argyle in League Two and Proctor is currently playing for AFC Fylde in non-league. None of them really managed to live up to their early promise at Preston, and Barton is arguably the most frustrating case of them all.
The lanky midfielder was handed a shock start at Burnley in September 2010, and turned in a simply sublime performance, bagging a goal and looking like a major threat behind Jon Parkin in a dramatic 4-3 defeat.
Barton was a regular under Darren Ferguson and Phil Brown in that relegation campaign, with his explosive start to life in the first team leaving many backing him for a huge future.
Liverpool wanted to sign Barton for £2.5million according to the Daily Mail, half of what Preston wanted at the time. It looked like Barton was on a path to stardom, but the hype was maybe too much at the time.
Barton was expected to be a shining light in a struggling Preston side, and it wasn’t an easy situation for a young player. His confidence appeared to wane, and even after relegation to League One, Barton couldn’t really find consistency.
When he suffered a triple leg break in February 2012, Barton’s Preston career ultimately came to an end. He was off to Coventry City in August 2012, and he has become something of a nomad since then.
73 games for Coventry, a loan spell at Fleetwood Town, 26 appearances at Portsmouth, 77 games at Partick Thistle, ten appearances for Dundee United, a loan spell at Connah’s Quay and then a move to Wrexham last summer; Barton has been all over Britain trying to recapture the magic.
Now 29, Barton is a free agent again having been released by Wrexham last month. With no appearances since October, the non-league side have parted ways, and when football returns from the coronavirus-induced break, he will hope to find a new club.
Barton’s shine faded quickly at Preston, and less than 10 years since those Liverpool links, he’s now searching for a club. Of all the cases of unfulfilled potential at North End, Barton’s sticks out as a sore one having stared so brilliantly. Hopefully the midfielder can get back on track wherever his next move takes him, even if he can’t reach his former heights.