Jose Fonte ‘studying opportunities’ to leave Southampton

Jose Fonte: Leaves for West Ham

Jose Fonte: Leaves for West Ham

Claude Puel says Jose Fonte is fielding several “opportunities” to leave Southampton in the January transfer window.

West Ham have been rumoured to be interested in want-away Saints defender Fonte, and manager Puel has accepted there are several offers on the table for the 33-year-old.

Saints ground past Norwich 1-0 in Wednesday’s FA Cup third-round replay courtesy of Shane Long’s last-gasp bundled goal, to book a home clash with Arsenal on January 28.

Euro 2016 winner Fonte’s future remains of top interest however, with Southampton boss Puel predicting progress on a possible deal in the week ahead.

“I think he has some opportunities: he studies these opportunities,” said Puel of Fonte.

“And for Southampton it’s the same. We will see if Jose leaves Southampton; we will see over the next few days.”

Puel handed England Under-21 cap Jack Stephens his first start in his preferred position of centre-back against Norwich, but remained coy on whether the 22-year-old is yet ready to step into Fonte’s shoes.

Refusing to confirm Saints would chase a replacement for Fonte, Puel said: “It was important to see him in his main position of centre-back, having had a couple of starts at right-back.

“It’s interesting to see Jack Stephens in this situation for example.

“Because we know Jose Fonte’s situation, he might leave the club, so it’s important to see Jack’s performances.”

Fonte now has less than 18 months to run on his Southampton deal, and has squabbled with the club over a potential contract extension.

The long-serving defender now looks set to leave the club, with Southampton’s board therefore desperate to hang on to the highly-prized Virgil van Dijk.

Saints are understood to have slapped a £50million price tag on Van Dijk to discourage suitors in this transfer window.

Fonte’s potential departure would heap strain on Saints’ defensive options, with just Maya Yoshida and Stephens to back up Van Dijk.

Yoshida captained Southampton in their flimsy win over Norwich, with Puel praising the 28-year-old’s form.

“Maya’s made good progress since the beginning of the season,” said Puel.

“It was important to give him the captaincy to give him confidence, it’s good for him, for his spirit.”

Norwich boss Alex Neil admitted his injury-hit side had little choice but to adopt a defensive approach at St Mary’s, before insisting Robbie Brady will not leave Carrow Road on the cheap.

Burnley are among a number of clubs circling Ireland midfielder Brady, but Neil believes Norwich will only let him leave on the club’s own terms.

“We came with a gameplan to sit behind the ball,” said Neil.

“We had all our midfielders suspended, injured or at the African Nations Cup.

“We had to put a makeshift team together but I couldn’t have asked any more of them.

“We would have liked to have offered a lot more going forward, but to lose it in the manner in which we did at the end, I felt for the players.

“There’s been ongoing negotiations and contact from other clubs about Robbie (Brady), but I’m not going to be specific.

“So far it’s not at the level we would expect.

“It will be at our timescale, it will be at our terms.”