Burnley manager Sean Dyche has welcomed the return of Joey Barton, but insists it will be a tough ask for the midfielder to break into the first team.
Barton has re-joined The Clarets until the end of the season after an unsuccessful stint at Scottish Premiership outfit Rangers, having made just five appearances.
Dyche confirmed the 34-year-old is in contention to feature in Burnley’s FA Cup third round tie away at Sunderland on January 7 – Barton served his one match Scottish FA betting suspension during Monday’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester City.
The Burnley boss admitted Barton’s priority should be fitting in with the current group of players, but also indicated the level of football is much higher at Turf Moor since promotion to the Premier League.
“The initial thing is just for him to come back in and be a valid part of the squad,” Dyche said. “He’s shown he wants to be a part of us again.
“There are no guarantees but Joey could be part of the pack. We will see how he does in training. He was a massive player for us last season but it’s a different level of football now we’re in the Premier League and he has to earn the right to get a game – he knows that.”
Dyche added: “The team is certainly going well enough on its own at the moment.”
Barton, who was an integral part of Dyche’s squad that gained promotion in the 2015/16 season, has been charged by the FA over betting allegations.
1,260 bets have allegedly been placed by Barton over a 10-year period, and if found guilty, the midfielder is expected to face a fine and a suspension.
Dyche said it’s up to Barton to address, not Burnley Football Club. “He’ll deal with that. It’s personal to him, it’s not about us.”
“It’s before he was part of our club again,” he said. “It’s for him and the powers that be to take that forward.”