Jose Fonte acknowledges Manchester United interest, still focused on Southampton

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Manchester United has improved dramatically this summer, bringing in a host of flashy – and expensive – new players.

However, one area the Red Devils still remain somewhat weak at is the back line. Recently, they have been linked with Southampton defender Jose Fonte, who would prove a welcome addition to a thin central defensive unit.

Fonte was asked about the rumors in the buildup to Southampton’s Premier League opener Saturday against Watford, and he both acknowledged the interest and played it down.

“If the interest is there, it is a reason to be flattered to be associated with a club like Manchester United,” Fonte told Portuguese outlet Mais Futebol. “But I have a contract with Southampton, and I’m just focused on my work, to make a great season. I will not deny that Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world and that it makes me happy to be associated with it. But to be Manchester United’s player is a big difference.”

The 32-year-old’s stock was already high, having strung three fantastic seasons together with Southampton, crafting him into one of the best defenders in England. Saints reportedly rebuffed plenty of interest in Fonte last summer, but this year, after adding to his value with a fantastic showing in Euro 2016 with eventual champions Portugal, given his age and form, it might be in Southampton’s best interests to sell.

However, Saints manager Claude Puel has issued a warning to would-be suitors. “I do not think there is a possibility for Jose to leave us,” Puel said to reporters in the pre-match press conference. “I am sure that he can play all these games. He is very proficient.”

“The window is difficult for the club and the players,” Puel continued. “Many clubs can be interested in players. That is normal.”

Fonte has been an absolute workhorse since joining Southampton from Crystal Palace in the 2010 winter transfer window while both clubs were still in the lower divisions. He has topped 3,000 league minutes in five of his six full seasons with Southampton, appearing in an incredible 110 Premier League matches the last three seasons (out of a possible 114).

At Manchester United, the current first-choice central defenders are Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Tyler Blackett, Phil Jones, and new signing Eric Bailly. Even with the arrival of 22-year-old Bailly, that squad doesn’t exactly inspire trophy-winning confidence.