The rumoured exit of Southampton captain Jose Fonte refuses to go away. That doesn’t mean anyone should take it seriously.
Usually by this point in the summer window, Southampton fans have already gone through the stages of grief that come with being known as a “selling club.”
Separation anxiety, as the sharks of the Premier League and others circle.
Denial, as the rumours begin to fly left and right.
Anger, when that one player you always thought would stay loyal bolts to what he believes are greener pastures.
Finally, acceptance, as the faithful make their peace with the dearly departed playmakers of last season’s campaign and look to what the Board have lined up to replace them.
As we stand now, Southampton fans should be at a point where it can be comfortably said that all who wanted off the boat have gotten off. After all, the club has never been one to hold back those who truly wanted to go elsewhere, even letting marquee player Adam Lallana go to Liverpool to fulfill his childhood dream of starting at Anfield.
With all that said, it is truly mindboggling that rumours regarding captain Jose Fonte leaving St. Mary’s continue to fly, and more mindboggling that supporters continue to give them any currency.
First, it was Everton who wanted the services of the 32 year old Portuguese international. One imagines this scenario plays well to the narrative of those fans who want to call former Southampton skipper Ronald Koeman a turncoat and worse; nothing puts the icing on the evil-villain cake quite like stealing your old team’s captain at a pittance. There was never any evidence that Jose Fonte actually wanted to go to Everton, but that’s never stopped a rumour mill before.
Undeterred by the apparent lack of substance in the Everton story, the rumour mill moved on. Now it was Old Trafford at which Jose Fonte would ply his trade, so the story went. Manager Claude Puel himself was quick to quash that line of inquiry, flatly telling Sky Sports that the stalwart defender was staying put and singing the praises of his captain:
"“Yes. He is a very important player for the squad and the team. It’s fantastic to have two players that are champions of Europe, with Soares. Only we can say that. Jose [Fonte] came back with the squad and it’s important to keep him with a good head and attitude.”"
Theoretically, that should be the end of story. A natural leader, rated by the manager, who has not displayed any overt desire to leave the club he’s been at since 2010.
Short of having the club crest tattooed on him, its difficult to imagine what else Jose Fonte has to do to demonstrate his loyalty to the legions of fans who evidently aren’t convinced.
Perhaps a recent interview from earlier this week could calm the nerves. Speaking to the Portuguese sports periodical O Jogo, Jose Fonte was unequivocal, stating that while nothing was certain, he was pleased with his time in Southampton and reiterating the point he’s been making throughout the transfer season. “But I state it again,” Fonte told O Jogo. “I’m happy where I am.”
In that same interview, Jose Fonte told O Jogo that he would consider a move to a Champions’ League-tier club, and that “if a Real Madrid or a Barcelona came up interested…it would be hard to hold myself.” The best way to read these comments is as standard fare to be expected of any player, nothing more or less. Barcelona and Real Madrid are two of the best clubs in the world, and with respect to Jose Fonte, a 32 year old centre-back with a relatively unassuming career (recent Euro 2016 success aside) isn’t likely to pique their interest.
As regards Champions’ League, neither Manchester United nor Everton fit that bill this season, and again at 32 years of age Jose Fonte’s clock is ticking. Perhaps if they had European football this year, he could be swayed, but as things stand there’s no real incentive for him to leave.
Final verdict: Nothing to see here. Expect Jose Fonte to line up opposite Virgil Van Dijk this Saturday against Watford, same as he’s done since the dark days of League One.