What a week it’s been for Marcus Bettinelli. The Fulham man saved a crucial penalty against Brighton in his 100 game for Fulham and then got his first call up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the games against Spain and Switzerland. It’s once again proof that persistence and patience pays off as Bettinelli has so often found himself having to fight to regain the first team shirt because of managerial changes and new signings.
The Fulham Academy graduate signed his professional contract back in 2011 and spent much of his first few years as a professional on loan at Dartford and Accrington Stanley. It’s fair to say that he has tasted both the highs and the lows at Fulham, with his debut coming in our first season after relegation. Fulham had lost their first the opening four league games, but Betts was thrown between the sticks for the Capital One Cup win over Brentford- our first victory of the campaign. Bettinelli kept his place for the next game, a draw against Reading, but was dropped for Hungarian Gabor Kiraly the week after. Felix bingo, eh? It wasn’t until Felix Magath was replaced by Kit Symons that Fulham had anything like a structured back line and Bettinelli got his first proper run in the squad. He made a total of 45 appearances that season, conceding 73 goals in a disappointing year for Fulham. We just about avoided being relegated to League One, and his first year playing senior football for Fulham was certainly a learning curve.
In the summer of 2015, Fulham brought in Andy Lonergan from Bolton meaning that once again the role of Fulham’s number one was up for grabs. Lonergan started the season as first choice, but Bettinelli was soon back in the frame. However, early that season Bettinelli faced the first main challenge of his career- coming back after an awful injury. A collision between Bettinelli and Fulham striker Matt Smith resulted in both players having to be replaced, with Betts having sustained a serious knee injury and faced 7 months on the sidelines. It was a testing time for the 23 year-old, but the determination and desire shown to get back is one of the many qualities that I love so much about him.
After fighting his way back as Fulham’s main man, Bettinelli then went through a season of only playing 11 times for Fulham in the 2016-17 campaign. However, he was the man called upon for the Fulham run in that saw us clinch a play-off spot. The 2017-18 season was similar, with David Button being preferred. But no one can doubt that when Bettinelli was eventually recalled to the side in December of last year, Fulham’s results took a turn for the better. He conceded just 21 goals in 30 appearances as Fulham got promoted through the play-offs, and the Fulham man was caught running around Wembley with a flare. Beautiful scenes.
For me Bettinelli has been a shining light for Fulham over the past few years. He has time and time again had to wait for a chance, but every time he has proved that he is worth that chance. His positive attitude throughout those difficult seasons down in the depths of the Championship was what we needed to see as fans, and for that we have to appreciate the character that we have in Marcus Bettinelli.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. There are aspects of his games that he needs to work on, but I feel that some of the criticism of him recently has been unfair. The main criticism of him has been on his distribution, but in the two games that he has played this season he has a higher percentage of successful long passes than 18/22 keepers who have featured in the league so far. With Fulham bringing in two goalkeepers during the summer window, there has been a raging debate about who should be our number one this season in the Premier League. Earlier in the summer I wrote a piece suggesting that as Betts had won the jersey, he should really be given the opportunity to defend it. However, this did become more difficult when we signed a goalkeeper with a calibre of Sergio Rico. I don’t think there is much between Bettinelli and Fabri in terms of ability, but the fact that Bettinelli doesn’t have the communication issues that Fabri has, then for me it’s a no brainer that Betts should be starting ahead of him.
In terms of the England call up, I am thrilled that Betts got the nod. It was Southgate who gave him his U21 England chance, so we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that it is Southgate who has opted for the Fulham player again for the senior side. Along with his positive attitude, one of Bettinelli’s best qualities is his drive to learn and to improve. I have no doubt that he will come back from England training even better having had the opportunity to learn from England’s best. What an honour for the 26 year-old, and I hope that this call-up is the first of many.
Marcus Bettinelli, what a guy!