Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli is delighted to have been able to put two seasons worth of injury hell behind him – and is determined to repay the faith of the Whites’ management team and fans by pushing for promotion to the Premier League this season.
The 25 year-old graduate from Fulham’s much vaunted academy has suffered with serious injuries that have interrupted his progression into Slavisa Jokanovic’s first team after a bright start when he was promoted from the club’s under 23s by former manager Kit Symons. Bettinelli told Sky Sports that his injury woe and the experience of a tough battle with David Button for the Craven Cottage goalkeeping jersey has made him relish regular football once again:
It’s been weird. In the second season under Kit [Symons] I had an absolute freak injury that came completely out of the blue. Thankfully I managed to come back and play 10 games or so and the season after that, I wasn’t really expecting to be Fulham’s No 1 and at the end of that season they brought David in.
It was one of those things that I had to reassess and I had to come down to earth and face the reality that I might have to fight for my place here and it’s going to be a struggle because David is a very good goalkeeper. I sat on the bench for pretty much the whole season and it was really frustrating. Obviously I wanted to be playing, but because of the year I had before that, I wanted to be playing even more because I missed out on such a big chunk of games, so it was a case of really trying not to get too frustrated with myself and out in training.
Having worked hard to get back into the team and help Fulham reach the Championship play-off semi-finals last season, Bettinelli’s bad luck struck again this summer when he injured a hamstring in August’s final pre-season friendly against Hamburg.
I was back to square one. David got his chance – and fair play to him, he did really well – and the gaffer’s stuck with him for 20-odd games. I can’t complain – as a goalkeeper when you lose your place because someone is playing really well, you have got to sit there and take it and that’s part and parcel of being a goalkeeper.
Thankfully, since I’ve been given a chance to get back in, I think I’ve done really well. The last two-and-a-half years have been frustrating but I think there is going to be times in my career when I’m even more frustrated. It’s never been easy, but the most important thing was I stayed focused and waited for my chance and when it came last year I was ready, and the same this year as well.
Bettinelli, who has now made 82 senior appearances for Fulham having joined the club in 2006, turned down the chance of joining Chelsea on two occasions over the past three seasons – and insists he doesn’t regret committing his future to the Whites having signed a contract extension earlier this year.
They needed a goalkeeper as a No 2 and in that sense, I didn’t really want to go because I’d missed such a big part of games and I love playing. I knew I wasn’t going to play games in front of Thibaut Courtois of course and I didn’t even know if I was going to be No 2, so it didn’t really jump out at me as one where I thought, ‘I’ve got to go, I’ve got to move’. The season before, after coming off the back of having a good season, it was a case of ‘will this boat ever come again?’ Jose Mourinho was the manager at the time and to sit there and say I don’t want to play under him would be a complete lie because he’s one of the best managers to ever manage in the Premier League.
At the same time games were the most important thing to me and in my head I was telling myself to get another season under your belt and play another 40-odd games. It didn’t work out like that and I got injured but at the same time, I don’t ever regret not going.
The popular goalkeeper freely admits that his belief that Fulham can win promotion from the Championship has grown since the winter as Slavisa Jokanovic’s side have strung together an eleven-match unbeaten run, which will be severely tested when league leaders Wolves come to the Cottage on Saturday night.
I think if you were to say would we have a chance a month ago, I would’ve said no. But we’ve given ourselves an incredible starting block and a chance to get promoted this season. Obviously Wolves are a great side and I can’t see anyone catching them, but Derby and Villa are well within our sights and everyone in that dressing room is fully prepared and fully ready to push on now and get that second spot.
Since December we’ve worked together as a team and I think we’ve become more streetwise, a little more nasty and to get promoted from this league I think you have to have that side of you where there is the never-say-die attitude. Our aim two months ago was playoffs and just to get into those playoffs we would’ve been buzzing with. But now we are here, we know we are just kicking on at the right time, invested in January and brought in two or three really good players.
We have to be aiming for second place and that has to be our main focus, but if we fall short of that and get playoffs then we’ll deal with that but at the same time, we want second place and we are going to keep fighting for it. It is going to be tough, it’s never going to be easy but we’ll give it our best shot.