Interview

One on one with: Jose Fonte

Who’s better, Alderwield, Van Djik or Lovren? Why it’s time referees used video replays and why he won’t be taking dancing lessons from Michail Antonio.

IN January 2010, Jose Fonte signed for Southampton Football Club in the third tier of English football for a £1.2m fee from Crystal Palace.

Back to back promotions followed as he went on to make his Premier League debut at 29 years of age and earn a first International call up two years later.

After seven seasons at Saints and International glory at Euro 2016 with Portugal, Jose Fonte is now a West Ham United player after signing for £8m in January. Now, nine months on, he says he can achieve even more in his career. Simon Banks went to West Ham’s Rush Green training ground to find out more.

Q. There must have been a lot of teams interested in signing you after your successful career at Southampton, why West Ham?

A. “The manager was a big part of that, he made it clear that he wanted me [to join West Ham] and sold me the ambition of the club, I saw the project that they have and what they want to achieve in the future and I wanted to be a part of it. The fact that I am in London now helps a lot too, because a lot of my family members live in London, it just all made sense and I am very happy.”

Q. What can you learn from the likes of Slaven Bilic and defence coach Julian Dicks?

A. “The manager and Julian [Dicks] have had great careers as defenders and are loved by the fans here. They will be able to help me to improve, no mater how old you are you are always learning. I hope that I can develop even more under the coaching staff here and go on to achieve things here.”

Q. It must have been difficult to return to Saint Mary’s in a different club’s colours, what emotions were you going through?

A. “I’m not going to lie, it was a very strange day he first time. Obviously emotional because of our past together and after forming a lot of memories as part of the club, I have some very great memories of playing [for Southampton]. It was a little strange to go back so early on [in my career for West Ham] just two weeks after I signed, so I was just trying to be really focused and try not to pass to the wrong team! The fact that we got the three points was most important.”

Q. How much of a baptism of fire was it making your debut for West Ham against a firing Manchester City? (4-0)

A. “It was a very proud moment [to make my West Ham debut] and you always remember your first game for a club, obviously it wasn’t a start that I wanted and Man City are very strong and don’t need any help to win games, so the fact that we gifted them three goals was very disappointing but the most important thing is that we bounced back in a tough game against Southampton after that.”

Q. When you first started your playing career in Portugal, were you always a central defender?

A. “I started playing football as a striker when I was young then as I got older I moved into central defence in my early teens. As soon as I started getting taller the further back I started playing! The rest from there is history.”

Q. When you were growing up who did you like to watch?

A. “I had many players I looked up to [when I was young] the players I liked most were Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini, they were my favourites because they were excellent defenders. I also looked up to Figo and Rui Costa for the national team, I always watched the best players closely as a kid.”

Q. If you wasn’t a footballer, what do you think you would be?

A “I have a big passion for motor sport and I used to do a lot of Go-Karting when I was young, so I think I would maybe be some kind of racing driver or maybe a basketball player, I like playing basketball and I’m tall too.”

Q. You had to wait until you were 31 to earn your first international cap for Portugal, why do you think you had to wait so long?

A. “When I got to the Premier League I thought to myself that I might be on the radar [for an international call up] but I was 29 years old. For the first two years it didn’t happen because the coaches at the time didn’t fancy me or had other options, but I never gave up. I played my best and the new manger came in and gave me a chance and it was one of the proudest moments in my career that I am very grateful for.”

Q. Just how exactly did Fernando Santos and the team pull off such a successful campaign at Euro 2016?

A. “We weren’t one of the favourites to win and that worked in our favour really because it removed some of that pressure. The manager [Fernando Santos] put the pressure on us though, from day one he told us we are going to win it, and because of the great team spirit we had, we also believed it too.
Getting through the group stage was tricky but once we got through we were unstoppable. It was a credit to the fantastic manager, staff and players who were all pulling in the same direction, looking back it was an incredibly proud moment.”

Q. Your wife is English and you’ve lived here for a long time now, what do you make of the English national team and why do you think they continue to underachieve on the big stage?

A. “There is so much talent in the England team, the quality is there along with great young players, good staff and training facilities, so I don’t know what is missing. England has everything to succeed, so hopefully under [Gareth] Southgate they can come together and establish good team spirit. An unbreakable team spirit is the most important thing, that’s what helped us succeed last year and if England have that, they have the quality to match.”

Q. What is Cristiano Ronaldo like and just how vain is he?

A. “On a personal basis, he is a great person and great to watch in training but not when he is against you!
If some people think he is vain or arrogant then that is a bit harsh on him, but if he is a little bit it is because he has the right to be, he works hard and he has achieved so much in the game, so good on him. Everyone in Portugal appreciates what he has achieved and everyone is proud of him.”

Q. Pepe is known for being quite a controversial character, what is he like to partner with on the pitch and is he always so fierce or is he just misunderstood?

A. “On the pitch, he is one of the greatest central defenders that I have played with and off the pitch, one of the nicest guys in football. When he is on the pitch he transforms into a different kind of animal because he is an athlete and super competitive and a very good player.”

Q. You’ve been part of some of the most solid centre back pairings in recent times, who is the best you’ve played along side?

A. “I have been lucky to partner probably some of the best defenders in recent years, with Pepe, Toby [Alderwield], Dejan [Lovren] and [Virgil] Van Djik.
Off the pitch, Dejan and I have a great relationship and we enjoyed successful times at Southampton. Van Djik is probably the best I have played with, he is without a doubt one of the biggest stars out there and he is strong, gifted, skilful and has everything he needs to play for any team in the world.”

Q. Who is the toughest player you have faced in club or international football?

A. “I have to say [Sergio] Aguero, because of his height and low centre of gravity it makes him very hard to play against. He is a very good finisher and one of the very best around, so it is always a good challenge playing against him. I would say Luis Suarez during his last season with Liverpool as a close second because he was unplayable.”

Q. There’s an argument that players are becoming too soft and referees are getting too whistle-happy in the modern game, how difficult does that make defending in the modern game?

A. “I think referees protect [attackers] a little bit and that just means you have to be at the top of your game. We all want the game to be fluid but the referees have a tough job because some players are so quick and things happen in a split second and it is difficult to make decisions, so it is always going to be controversial.”

Q. Do referees need video technology?

A. “I think it is about time that referees were given the help of video replays, because decisions like that [Gabbiadini’s disallowed goal in the EFL Cup Final] are so vital to get right. Other sports around the world use it and referees could check and in 30 seconds would know yes or no, I think it would help and be in the best interests of everybody.”

Q. Who would make it into your five-aside team of players you have played with?

A. “In goal, I’ll have to go for Rui Patricio because he was unstoppable in Euro 2016 and made some brilliant saves in the final and was goalkeeper of the tournament. In defence, I would go for Pepe because he is a brilliant player and very athletic. In midfield, Adam Lallana on the left and Sadio Mane on the right, both are excellent. Obviously, Ronaldo up front. No explanation!”

Jose Fonte’s West Ham teammates.

Biggest joker: “The biggest joker is Mark Noble, he is always laughing and joking with everyone.”

Hardest worker: “I would say the hardest worker in the team is myself! But we have a hard working squad of players here.”

Best dressed: “The best dressed at the club is very difficult one to call, I’ll go for Kouyate, even though Noble thinks that he is!”

Worst dressed: “The worst dressed has to be Angelo [Ogbonna], he came into training with wide flared tracksuit bottoms that were very strange.”

Most skilful: “The most skilful player has to be Manual Lanzini.”

How will you celebrate when you score? “If I scored for West Ham I would of course celebrate and it would be a special moment, but I wouldn’t dance like Michail [Antonio] he’s dancing is awful!”

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