It’s the 7th December. We are still 25 days away from the opening of the transfer window, yet par for the course the papers are awash with talk of the ever widening St. Mary’s exit door.
Speculation on the whole surrounds the centre half pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte, and as usual it is causing disruption and unrest when we should be talking about a win or bust Europa League game on Thursday night.
In the case of van Dijk, his near immaculate performances since joining from Celtic in 2014 have seen him gather an army of admirers. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Dutchman is one of the best in the league at what he does, if not the best. To see him linked with the usual suspects at the top of the table should be, and isn’t, of no surprise. As usual we are the club that took the risk on a player, blooded him, improved him, and now the vultures are circling
Jose Fonte on the other hand is an altogether more curious case. His superb displays for 8 years at the club have largely gone under the radar. Fonte has quietly gone about his job, while a succession of partners seem to attract all the praise. Dejan Lovren, Toby Alderweireld and now van Dijk are lauded as the key member of the central defence club. While Jose is overlooked as the constant, the variables are enjoying the plaudits and so far managed to secure bigger contracts with ‘bigger’ clubs.
That might just have changed in the Summer though when Fonte was a key member of Portugal’s European Championship winning team. His profile was raised and rightly so, and with it came some wanted and unwanted attention. Speculation has been rife ever since, with Manchester United and Everton both supposedly keen to improve an area they are poor in. Unfortunately that speculation has led to fan unrest and now we have an unnecessary and unwanted public PR battle between club and player as talk of a ‘new’ contract has divided opinion.
Let’s look at it from both points of view.
Should Jose Fonte, returning from a hugely successful Summer, and having given the club eight successful years feel deserving of a contract extension? Sure, that doesn’t seem to much to ask.
Should Southampton FC feel obliged to extend the contract of a player who is 33 this month? Not at all, that is fully dependent on the long term plan of the club. As we know, for everyone at the club there is already a replacement in mind. If that replacement is already inbound, would it be financially prudent to extend Fonte’s contract?
What we don’t know is what the demands of a new contract are? With the likes of Jose Mourinho and Ronald Koeman interested and in charge of cash rich clubs, perhaps Fonte is looking for a considerably lucrative new deal. It would be naive to suggest ‘super’ agent Jorge Mendes wouldn’t be pushing for it, and will be using the interest of others as a deal breaker.
It is reported, and confirmed by Fonte himself that he was offered a pay rise in the Summer, but it didn’t come with an extension. Did the club do enough?
Given his age, and the fact that he is now entering the twilight of his career would anyone begrudge him a move to a Manchester United sized club? It would be hard to justify any anger in that situation, especially if Saints have no interest in extending his deal and were to get a decent fee. You could argue that this is all ‘perfect timing’ from a business point of view.
However, it would be a sad end to a journey that Jose Fonte has very much been a part of, and with the propaganda and the sniping that appears to be commonplace with such speculation, are fans in danger of becoming bitter and twisted about departures? It’s football right, but the business model of the club, successful as it has been, brings with it a sense of anxiety when our players are seemingly hand picked by those we are competing with.
It feels like only a matter of time before Saints fans have somebody to boo in every fixture they play, and that level of negativity isn’t required.
If Jose Fonte leaves in January (and personally I hope he doesn’t) then his contribution over the years will be outweighing of any unpleasantness over the last six months. He should leave with our blessing and be given a Rickie Lambert-esque reception on his return.
The fact of the matter is, that none of us really know what has gone on behind closed doors and perhaps never will. As a Saints fans we have to roll with the punches. We should be used to it by now.
Keep the faith.