Sentiment is an emotion we just can’t afford as we look to progress in the Premier League. That’s Drew Heatley’s view as he discusses Bettinelli’s and Ream’s changing roles in the squad.
When Marcus Bettinelli ran behind the goal at Wembley, flare aloft, just three months ago, could he have predicted that, come August, he’d be third choice behind a pair of slick Spanish shot-stoppers? You’d have to say no. But the answer is, sadly: he should have.
Saturday’s defeat – while producing plenty of positives – was a wake-up call. It reminded us all how much of a different beast the Premier League is. How the step up in class and quality is gargantuan.
Luckily, Slav and his team, Ali Mac and, crucially, the Khans, needed no reminding. Much is being made in the press about our 12 new recruits – amassed for the princely sum of £100 million. And in the stands we’re having a tough time saying goodbye to some of last season’s heroes – or, more accurately, watching their roles change.
Betts is the most obvious example of this, of course. Fulham fans just love Marcus Bettinelli. And what’s not to love? He came up through the academy, his dad’s roots are intertwined with Fulham – Marcus just gets the club. He thumps the badge. He claps the fans. And he’s a good goalkeeper.
But is he good enough for the Premier League? With just 38 games in a season, we couldn’t take that risk. Fabri, with his Champions League experience and championship-winning expertise is, on paper, an upgrade. And newest recruit Sergio Rico, a two-time Europa League winner, is perhaps even more so.
This isn’t a Button-Bettinelli debate. This is a clear case of improving the squad. And sadly that creates casualties. The singing of Bettinelli’s name on Saturday from sections of the crowd, while not being entirely surprising, is ultimately futile – Bettinelli will be out on loan before the end of the month.
He’s not the only player our hearts are grappling with our heads about. For the longest time this summer, our defence looked like our biggest problem area. Five new defensive signings have plugged a lot of gaps, and we’re now looking well-stocked in the centre. So, with two spots available, who takes a step back? Surely it can’t be our player of the year, Tim Ream?
But deep down, we know it will be. There’s little doubt that Mawson, with his Premier League experience, will be a vital cog in our defence for years to come. Le Marchand comes with a pedigree, and Arsenal and Man United didn’t send out Chambers and Fosu-Mensah respectively to warm the bench.
Ream’s improvement since he arrived in SW6 has been marked. But to echo Jack’s question on this week’s podcast, was last season the peak? Was that a level that Tim is unlikely to be able repeat? We need him to – at a minimum. So it’s prudent to get options in. And, yes, two are loanees – and it hurts to move them in front of permanent fan favourites. But welcome to the Premier League.
The fact that of the loanees we had last season, Mitro was the only player we snapped up permanently, shows that the guys at the top of our club have the pragmatism and ruthlessness needed to assemble a team capable of staying in the Premier League – and do more besides.
The times they are a-changin’ – and we’re changing with them.