At the age of 31, Jose Fonte is enjoying a breakout year at Southampton.
The Saints’ skipper and starting center-back has emerged as one of the best defenders in the Premier League, tabbed by many to be named in the PFA’s Team of the Year at the end of the season.
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Our very own Joe Prince-Wright sat down with Fonte to look at how this “late bloomer” is leading Saints to their best ever Premier League finish, while breaking into the Portuguese national team in the process.
Fonte played in his first match for Portugal at the age of 30, helping lead his country to a 1-0 clean sheet win over Argentina. Fonte talked about watching Ronaldo vs. Messi in the game, but it wasn’t the defender’s first time playing alongside the best in the world.
From NBC’s SportsWorld:
We played together when I was 17 and he [Ronaldo] was 16, already playing for the year above himself,” Fonte explained. “We played together that year and you could see straightaway that he was different. He has always been different. His winning mentality and wanting to be the best set him apart.”
Fonte then revealed some incredible examples of the lengths the reigning three-time World Player of the Year went to as a 16-year-old to stay ahead of the curve.
He works incredibly hard and people don’t appreciate what he had to do to be where he is,” Fonte explained. “He had to work very hard since he was 16. I remember him doing push-ups in the shower, for example, after training. Trying to do 50 push-ups more than anybody else. I remember him going to the gym at midnight. When everybody else was asleep, he was in the gym. It is his mentality and trying to be the best that sets him apart, no doubt.”
Fonte has come along way from the Sporting youth team that saw him playing with a teenage Ronaldo. In his sixth season at Southampton and third in the Premier League, the Portuguese defender has become a fan-favorite at St. Mary’s.
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While he is enjoying his time in what he calls “England’s Monaco,” Fonte said he does follow Major League Soccer now that his former Southampton teammate Guly do Prado signed with the Chicago Fire. The 31-year-old defender is hoping to reach the Champions League with Saints, but doesn’t rule out a move to America and MLS in the future.
I would absolutely love to go to America. I love America,” Fonte said. “I would like to play in MLS. I even talk and joke with Guly and said, ‘You know, set me up a place there to get a contract in a few years.’ But yeah, I now follow the MLS because of the Chicago Fire and it is something that my family and I would love to do, to play a few years in America and experience that. It would be amazing. New York, LA, Chicago … Whatever, it would be good.”