Preparing for a season in the Championship is very different from preparing for a season in the Premier League. It’s a task that Shahid and Tony Khan will have to think very hard about as well as being willing to perhaps loosen the purse strings to ensure that they give Fulham the best chance possible to stay up. It’s difficult to watch a player who has perhaps been pivotal in Fulham’s promotion season get cast aside for a campaign in the Premier League, but it’s obvious that no promoted team could survive the PL without strengthening. I’ve decided to have a look at Fulham’s squad as it is now and assess what players should be given a chance in the top English League and who perhaps should now be looking at other clubs to continue their career. Football is a harsh world at times, and it doesn’t get harsher than this really, but it Fulham want to survive next season then a number of changes will have to be made. My first article will centre around the man between the sticks- the goalkeeper.
I’ll start off by looking at the senior players who we currently have on our books- Marcus Bettinelli, David Button and Marek Rodak. Most of the stats below are from www.transfermarkt.co.uk while the average goals conceded per game was just my own calculation.
It’s quite easy to see why David Button was dropped in favour of Marcus Bettinelli in December and a lot has already been made of Fulham’s upturn in fortune since then. There were other factors of course, such as the addition of both Matt Targett and Aleksander Mitrovic and the form of Denis Odoi over Tomas Kalas in defence, but there is no doubt that Bettinelli was a significant factor in our promotion. I do have to praise Button, though, as his attitude since being dropped was positive and some of the celebrations between him and Betts after the Derby playoff and then at Wembley show us a little glimpse of the goalkeeper union at Fulham. Never underestimate how crucial it is as a goalkeeper to have that. However, Button isn’t a Premier League keeper and it’s time to let him go.
Rodak has had a really positive loan at Rotherham and now has his own slice of Wembley success after winning the League One playoff final the day after Fulham’s victory. At 21, he still has a lot of development ahead of him so I think the club should, and most likely will, keep him but loan him out again. A Championship club would be a good destination as it will allow a step up in pressure which will help him continue to grow. If you haven’t had a chance to see him in action yet then rest assured that we have a goalkeeper of real quality there, and a few years down the line he could be pushing for the number one jersey at Craven Cottage.
The real question, however, is whether we replace Button with someone who will be back up to Bettinelli or someone to replace him as number one. Bettinelli has been at Fulham since the age of 10, and has had England U21 experience as well as catching the eye of neighbours Chelsea. 14 clean sheets in 29 appearances this season is a very good statistic, as is having only conceded 20 goals altogether. But is it enough for him to remain as number one? My heart says yes, but my head is undecided.
Last season Brighton, Huddersfield and Newcastle all made goalkeeper changes. David Stockdale, who Fulham already know so well, moved away from the Amex to Birmingham, while Danny Ward, on loan at Huddersfield from Liverpool, returned to his parent club rather than stay with the Terriers for the PL. Newcastle didn’t bring another goalkeeper in at first, but changed their first choice from Karl Darlow to Rob Elliott. However, this didn’t work out very well at all, and they ended up bringing in Martin Dúbravka on loan in January to finish the season for them. He has now signed with them permanently.
No matter what, Fulham should be looking to bring in another goalkeeper to replace Button and, while I think that while Bettinelli should be our starter in August, whoever we bring in needs to be able to put the pressure on him. Bettinelli has won the jersey from Button, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep it ahead of a Premier League goalkeeper. I do believe that he deserves the chance to try though.
So far, I haven’t seen any legitimate transfer rumours regarding goalkeepers so I have no names to throw at you for now, but I expect at least one addition there throughout the summer.