Premier League Career: Southampton (2012-2017), West Ham United (2017)
Jose Fonte’s 11-year stay in English football has recently come to an end after the 34-year-old agreed to leave West Ham United for a stint in the Chinese Super League with Dalian Yifang. Fonte first played on these shores outside of the top-flight for Crystal Palace in 2007 and had a successful time at Southampton, playing a crucial part in their return to the Premier League.
Fonte has also experienced the ultimate highs of international football, helping Portugal to a shock victory at the 2016 European Championships. The Portuguese didn’t concede a single goal as soon as Fonte came into the starting XI following the group stages of the showpiece tournament in France.
In his youth days, Fonte spent the bulk of his education at Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon. However, he only managed to reach their ‘B’ team as a senior player, so moved down the levels in his home country by joining Felgueiras in the second division.
After a brief spell with Vitoria Setubal, Benfica snapped Fonte up in the 2006 January transfer window but never played him. Instead, they shipped him out on-loan to Portuguese rivals Pacos Ferreira and Estrela Amadora before joining Crystal Palace in 2007.
His move to the Londoners was initially another loan spell but the Eagles were quick to make this a permanent deal and Fonte even filled in as a makeshift forward when required at Selhurst Park. In total, he made 82 Football League appearances for them, scoring six times before leaving in January 2010 for Southampton.
At this stage, the Saints had been in decline and were playing in League One. He made his debut in a 1-1 draw with Millwall but would have to wait for his first goal until August 2010 when he struck in a commanding 4-0 success over Bristol Rovers. Six further goals followed and Fonte was inspirational towards Southampton’s promotion to the Championship. Rightly, he was voted into the League One Team of the Year and achieved 64% of the vote to be crowned as the club’s Player of the Year too.
Fonte’s momentum continued in 2011-2012, missing just four league matches as Southampton achieved back-to-back promotions. All of a sudden, they were back in the top-flight after an eight-year absence. On the day when their promotion was confirmed, Fonte was among the goalscorers in the 4-0 win over Coventry City as St. Mary’s was engulfed in a pitch invasion full of celebrating supporters.
He made his Premier League debut on the opening weekend of the 2012-2013 campaign as Southampton were narrowly beaten 3-2 by champions Manchester City. His only two goals of the campaign were enough to earn them their first Premier League draw since May 2005 – achieved in a 2-2 result with Fulham. The second goal came in the 90th minute. Fonte also skippered the side occasionally for Nigel Adkins but a knee injury meant he lost his automatic place initially in the side when Mauricio Pochettino arrived.
He regained his regular starting berth in 2013-2014, scoring the club’s first home goal of the season to rescue a draw with Sunderland. In January 2014, he was attacked by his teammate Dani Osvaldo during a fight at the club’s Stapelwood training ground. Osvaldo was suspended by the club and loaned out to Juventus following the incident.
After interest from Aston Villa in the close-season, Fonte signed a three-year contract extension in August 2014 and was named as the new captain of the club by Pochettino’s successor, Ronald Koeman. On signing the new deal, he said: “What made us sign was first that we signed a very good manager and second that the fans have been very good with me. They love me and I have a very good relationship with them.”
He made his 250th appearance for the club in a 3-1 home win over Burnley in October 2016 but wouldn’t make many more starts. His swansong for the club came on New Years’ Day 2017 and with the ominous threat of departing on a free transfer in the summer; Southampton sold him to West Ham United for approximately £8 million.
His spell with the Irons was less successful, conceding a penalty on his home debut against Manchester City. He also received criticism from West Ham co-owner David Sullivan, who told The Guardian: “The manager (Slaven Bilic) said he wanted Fonte from Southampton and Snodgrass from Hull. My kids begged me not to sign them.”
A foot injury sustained in late October against Crystal Palace put him on the sidelines for three months and in February 2018, David Moyes confirmed an agreement had been reached for Fonte to leave after just 24 appearances for the club to try and salvage his dream of representing Portugal at this summer’s World Cup finals.