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Marcus Bettinelli, Stockpiling and Why a Move to Chelsea isn’t out the Realms of Possibility

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News this morning that Chelsea have bid £2.5m for Marcus Bettinelli is enough to make the blood boil if you stop and think about it.

This is yet another example of a big club using their financial weight to stockpile young talent.

There is nothing in the law book that says stockpiling is wrong. Though is it so wrong? And would Marcus Bettinelli really be better off not moving to Chelsea?

Indeed, stockpiling can actually be a clever business model. Sign young talent, develop a network of feeder clubs to which you can send young players out on loan in the knowledge they will play regularly, then either sell them on for a profit or keep the ones that develop into players for your first team.

Feeder clubs are not a new phenomenon. Arsenal, for example, had an “operational” link up with Belgian club Beveren in Arsene Wenger’s early days at the club, although that ended up with a FIFA investigation as the Parent Club is not allowed to pay the Feeder Club for the relationship. Watford, Udinese and Granada, all owned by the Pozzo family, operate within a network where players are almost interchangeable. Manchester City’s owners now own New York City FC and Melbourne City, the relationship between the clubs allowing Frank Lampard to join Manchester City prior to his move to the MLS. While Spanish clubs have second teams who play in the professional ranks.

However, it is the concept of stockpiling which is relatively new and becoming increasingly evident and potentially problematic given the money available at the top of the game.

It is a business model most successfully employed by Chelsea, the club playing the role of the villain in this current escapade.

Chelsea have a partnership with Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch Eredivisie. The two clubs are owned by friends. This enables them to send any player they choose to the Dutch club on loan. For a small club like Vitesse, who know they will never fully challenge the likes of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven domestically, the link up guarantees them several talented young players every season at a minimal cost. For Chelsea, the players they send there get game time in a top flight league. The Vitesse squad for the upcoming season currently has four Chelsea players on loan, including Danilo Pantic, an 18 year old Serbian midfielder who signed for Chelsea yesterday.

Chelsea have also successfully developed a link up with Championship side Middlesbrough . This link up sees Chelsea send their top level prospects, the ones who are on the cusp of being Premier League ready, to play in the English second tier. That Boro are managed by Jose Mourinho’s former assistant at Real Madrid, Aitor Karanka, is no coincidence.

However, aside from the formal and informal links, Chelsea remain prolific loaners. By being a willing parent club, they will normally find a home for their players they wish to loan out. Patrick Bamford is the latest example. Signed from Nottingham Forest for £1.5m as an 18 year old, the striker has had loan spells in League One, at MK Dons, in the Championship – at Derby and then Middlesbrough, and this week signed on loan for Crystal Palace, where he will get a year’s experience in the Premier League.

In total, Chelsea currently have 30 (Yes – THIRTY) players out on loan for the upcoming season.

Their system and attitude to loanees can perhaps be summed up by their current very public pursuit of Everton defender Jon Stones. If they sign him, it’s for the first team. Everton and Barnsley have already done the hard yards and developed Stones. At over £20m, should he join, Stones is not exactly cheap.

Yet in amidst this pursuit it has gone largely unnoticed that Chelsea have in their ranks, two of the best defensive prospects in English football in Tomas Kalas and Andreas Christensen. Kalas, after two years on loan at Vitesse, has now joined Middlesbrough for the 2015/16 season. Dane Christensen has just joined Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach on loan. With the likes of Kurt Zouma already at the club, the chances of these two ever making the full squad permanently must be extremely remote.

So the question remains why do young players agree to join a club like Chelsea? For the likes of Kalas and Christensen, who have given years to Chelsea already, to see such a public pursuit of someone like Stones, it must be a bit of a kick in the face.

However, think of it like this. You are a top level prospect and Chelsea want you. It’s win: win really. You know you will be sent on loan to a good club with nearly guaranteed game time. This will then either put you in the shop window or if you are one of the chosen few, you may even make the first team.

If you stay at your original club and make it to your mid-twenties, you may not ever get the move to a big club. Your club may hold out for too high a fee or your development might stall because the environment you are in is one in which results, not development, take priority.

There is the additional risk that when you join a Chelsea or a Man City as an already established player in that competition for places is fierce. Stockpiling of these prime year players is something that really is a problem for the English game as prime talents can go to waste. Manchester City are the biggest offenders here, in that they have signed a cavalcade of established players only for those players to get lost in the system and eventually be sold at a loss to worse clubs than they left in the first place – Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair are two recent examples that spring to mind.

For players yet to reach their prime, like Kalas and Christensen, joining Chelsea as a teenager gave them a better chance of ending up at a top club than they would have had if they’d stayed at Sigma Olomouc and Brondby, and they’ve probably been paid better in the process.

So that brings us back to Bettinelli. Would Marcus want to move to Chelsea? After all, this is a club that has just paid £8m for a back-up goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic, a player with 41 International caps to his name.

Indeed, Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea’s world class Number One is actually 13 days younger than Bettinelli.

Accepting that Courtois is an usual case, most goalkeepers don’t enter their prime until later in their careers, Bettinelli would likely still be signing up for a scenario in which his optimal position will be the eventual Chelsea Number 2.

Considering Bettinelli and his family have a long connection with Fulham I’d be surprised to see him go, especially if he is guaranteed to continue as our Number 1. Though if Chelsea could guarantee him a loan to a club whose defence doesn’t leak as many shots as ours he may well be tempted. There’s also no guarantee he stays as Fulham’s Number One for the entire season. Should we enter a promotion or relegation race, results become too important to carry any player if they are not pulling their own weight.

It also depends on his career goals. At 23, Bettinelli has the potential to be between the sticks for Fulham for the next decade. This comes with no guarantee that we’ll be back in the Premier League. A move to Chelsea would likely see him make the top division at some point in his career. Uncertainty and risk come in different forms.

From Fulham’s perspective, we won’t want to lose Marcus for the reason I’ve just said, he could be our goalkeeper for the next decade. However, with a good veteran now at the club in Andy Lonergan, and several talented youngsters in the pipeline in Jesse Joronen, Marek Rodak and Magnus Norman, there are other options should the transfer happen.

Stockpiling seems to be unavoidable, but if players can continue to see the benefits of a system that is not exactly secret, perhaps it is just something modern football will have to learn to live with.

COYW

Ross McCormack: Player of the Season

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Unlike the uncertainty surrounding tomorrow’s General Election, Fulham’s Player of the Season can barely be any more clear cut.

Amidst a season of near universal mediocrity, where his supporting cast that has faltered at virtually every step, with one manager who lambasted his fitness and another who played him out of position and his ideal strike partner bought specially to play with him only to be loaned to a lower division, Ross McCormack has amassed a statistically outstanding season and is the overwhelming choice for Player of the Season.

To put Ross’ season into context, take the following example:

League Goals League Assists
Player A 16 2
Player B 17 9

Player A is Middlesbrough’s Patrick Bamford, the Chelsea loanee who won the Official Championship Player of the Season award. Striker B, McCormack, has better headline numbers, and yet was nowhere to be seen at the Football League Awards Gala.

Of course, statistics, especially headline ones like goals and assists don’t always tell the full story, but delve a little deeper, and McCormack’s season remains wholly impressive. In total, he scored 19 goals with 11 assists. Seven of his goals were from outside the box, whilst he went a lethal five from five from the penalty spot. His shot accuracy of 56% was 7% better than the next most accurate player, Hugo Rodallega, and 15% higher than third placed Cauley Woodrow.

Ross also proved the most durable Fulham player, completing 407 more minutes on the pitch than any other Fulham player. The 79 chances he created were also a team high.

Disregarding numbers, McCormack has been a consistent bright light for the Whites this season as a technically superior player who’s presence always seemed to give us a chance. His attacking style, though more bustle than languid, occasionally resembled a certain Bulgarian striker in quality. OK he’s not quite the Glaswegian Berbatov, but Ross’ first touch, vision and technical skill has at times seemed out of place in the rough ‘em tough ‘em style of the Championship, yet he has had a remarkable impact and is the one player who has genuinely made a regular positive difference to this Fulham side.

I don’t want to sound too gushing with my praise. The phrase a rose between two thorns comes to mind. It is easy to praise McCormack in contrast to his supporting cast, who have not exactly set the world on fire. However given a full season where he’s played up front with a strike partner, I have no doubt we’ll see his Leeds numbers replicated in Fulham white.

McCormack’s form this season earned him a recall to the Scotland national team, which was unfortunately curtailed by injury.  He also provided arguably the best moment of the season with his 94th minute winner against Middlesbrough a fortnight ago.  He also scored the winner at Brentford.

If you were looking for any criticisms of McCormack’s game that you would like to see ironed out next season you could point to his streakiness in front of goal. Of his 19 goals, seven came in a six game spell at the end of the season and another five came in a five game period over the winter. However, the barren spells in between were often due to him being played out of position or with an endless parade of strike partners plus he’s not exactly been blessed for chances laid on by teammates either.

That’s the thing with Ross, he is both tremendously unselfish in wanting to set up others, but at the same time ruthless and confident enough to make his own chances. This does manifest itself in the occasional act of ridiculousness, but virtuosos don’t get it right every time. If he did, Ross would play at a higher level than he does.

Simply put, without Ross there is a very good chance we would have been relegated. It might not be the justification we were originally after when we signed him, but McCormack has been worth every penny of the rumoured £100 billion we paid Leeds for him.

Runners Up

Lasse Vigen Christensen
The Dane was the one younger player to make an impact where you didn’t have to qualify it by saying “for a youngster” afterwards. Though his season came to an abrupt end in February, the midfielder made 25 appearances, scoring 5 goals. He looks a genuine box to box talent and will likely play a central role next season. That is if he remains at the club, with any luck the injury will actually work in our favour and keep the vultures at bay for another year.

Marcus Bettinelli
Persistently inconsistent form means I can’t consider Bettinelli a genuine rival for McCormack’s title. However the young keeper has shown real potential this season to go alongside some outstanding individual performances and looks to have a long term future between the sticks for Fulham. In only his first full professional season, Bettinelli has had to endure a defence as porous as a Brita water filter and has still walked away with 8 clean sheets in 39 games. Yes, he has made some fairly catastrophic mistakes, but tell me a young keeper who hasn’t? As a goalkeeper, mistakes are part of the game, and are as much a learning experience as anything else. Having seen a young Joe Hart in his maiden season at Man City and Kasper Schmeichal on loan at Bury, I can say with some certainty Bettinelli not behind the curve and will only get better.

Matt Smith
Whilst most of his good performances were for another side, Matt Smith has been one of the few Fulham players to actually play consistently well this season. His goals whilst on loan at Ashton Gate helped Bristol City romp to the League 1 title and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Once he returned to Fulham, several crucial goals, including the winner at Blackpool, helped us cross the finish line and stay up. No, his inclusion in the side doesn’t foster champagne football, but he’s effective and is as good a ball winner up front as we’ve had in some time. In a division where route one is an inescapable necessity at times, that is a quality that should not be overlooked.

 

COYWs